Widow: Firefighter husband "was not afraid of anything"

More than 45 fires were burning Saturday in five states. In Colorado, smoke from wildfires triggered a health advisory for the northern part of the state, including the Denver area.

There are more large fires burning in Idaho than any other state. A group of fires has destroyed at least 42 homes in the northern part of the state.

Washington state is especially hard-hit, where President Obama declared a state of emergency.

More than 250 square miles are scorched, and authorities said they have "no idea" how many homes have been destroyed.

The situation there was so chaotic Saturday that about 200 volunteers were getting basic firefighting training to help keep the flames in check.

Most of the destruction was in Okanogan County in the north-central part of the state, where at least 10 fires were burning.

Some relief was expected Saturday from gusty winds that are rapidly spreading the flames.

Thousands of firefighters are on the lines. Three died earlier this week in north-central Washington. Investigators are still trying to determine exactly what happened.

CBS News' Carter Evans spoke to the widow of one of those men in Omak, Washington.

Rick Wheeler, 31, was in a fire engine with two other firefighters when it crashed and flames overtook them.

"I heard on the news first about the three firefighters being killed in a fire up in Twisp, and I had a gut feeling," Wheeler's wife Celeste said.

It was the moment her life changed forever. In the 10 years her husband had been fighting fires there had never been bad news.

"I tried to call him a few times," Wheeler said. "I just knew that he would call me as soon as he could. That call wasn't coming. No, it didn't come."

Instead, two police officers came to the door.

"And then I knew what had happened," Wheeler said.

Celeste and Rick had known each other since high school. When they started dating in college, Rick had already found his calling.

"He is a fourth-generation firefighter," Wheeler said. "So it's in his blood. As soon as he started working in wildland fire, he just loved it."

An avid outdoorsman, he loved to hunt and fish. He paid his way though college fighting fires in the summer.

"Rick was good at it," Wheeler said. "He had that ability to think quickly on his feet, and I feel like he was not afraid of anything."

This undated photo provided by the Wheeler family shows firefighter Richard "Rick" Wheeler with his wife Celeste. Rick Wheeler was killed Aug. 19, 2015, while fighting a wildfire in Washington state.
This undated photo provided by the Wheeler family shows firefighter Richard "Rick" Wheeler with his wife Celeste. Rick Wheeler was killed Aug. 19, 2015, while fighting a wildfire in Washington state.
Courtesy of the Wheeler family via AP

He often spent weeks on the fire line in remote areas with no cell service. Celeste could go days without hearing from her husband.

"It was hard, but just being with him was so worth the hardship," Wheeler said.

When she closes her eyes, she said the image she sees of him is "just his smile."

"He was just such a happy, happy person, could brighten up my day anytime, and I'm going to miss that so much," Wheeler said.

She said she doesn't know where she'll go from here.

"I never thought this would happen," Wheeler said, "and I don't have any sort of idea what's going to happen next."