Alabama Forestry Commission Seeks Lessons From Arizona Tragedy

An entire crew of 19 firefighters died fighting the Yarnell Hill Wildfire in Arizona on Sunday.

The fire was caused by lightning on Friday afternoon.

A drastic shift in winds, combined with unusual drought conditions, trapped the crew.

Tragedies like these burden firefighters’ hearts, but they also perk ears.

Morgan County Forrester Robert Maddox says, “It makes us question what could we have done in a similar situation.  We think about safety at that time and just go over it.”

It may seem like a long way from home, but at the Alabama Forestry Commission, they need to prepare themselves to fight fires anywhere they get the call.

Maddox explains, “There is a federal registry for emergency wildfire personnel to get called up to send either a few people out or an entire crew.”

He adds that wildfires out west look and act differently than they would in the wild lands of Alabama, “For instance, out there they have a lot steeper terrain, saddles, chimneys.  Terrain will funnel heat, will funnel fire.”

Around here, we’ve got a two or three types of dry grass that specifically fuel fires.  But Maddox says out west, “They’ve got twenty different types of vegetation that burn just as hot just as fast.”

In Alabama, we just don’t have the risk that western states face, so training with the machines and safety equipment becomes even more important.

In the wild lands, it’s easy enough to get caught off guard as it is.

Maddox explains, “When wind changes on a roaring wildfire, the fire can change direction very quickly and become a lot more aggressive, and what you thought was your escape route becomes covered up.  And you become surrounded very quickly.”

So when firefighters in Alabama see what happened in Arizona, it makes their hearts heavy and their minds race, to make sure they’re prepared if they get called into the wild lands.

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