Area crews could head west to battle wildfires

Posted at 12:50 PM, Jul 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-01 14:01:15-04

PROVIDENCE FORGE, Va. (WTVR) -- The deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona who were members of an elite wildfire team called the "Hot Shots" resonates with professional foresters in Virginia.

"It's got to be very difficult on them to continue on with their mission knowing that there is people down and people killed," said Dave Milby with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Milby is a deputy regional forester based out of Providence Forge, Virgina.  He coordinates all wildfire fighting efforts in Virginia's eastern region, which stretches from Interstate 95 to the coast.

Milby said one member of his team is already in Colorado assisting crews there with wildfires.  His department has put together a crew of 20 other firefighters who are "on deck" should crews in the West need help.

The challenges of fighting wildfires in the West are inherently different than in Virginia, Milby said, but many of the techniques and tools crews use are similar.

Reports indicate that the "Hot Shots" team used what is known as a "fire shelter" as a last effort to escape the flames.  Fire shelters are the size of a pup tent and made with reflective materials on the outside that deflect radiant heat.  A firefighter is supposed hide underneath them when things get out of control, Milby said.

Fire shelters are standard issue for each firefighter in his crew, according to Milby.

Thousands of acres of land are still burning in Arizona, part of the same wildfire that took the lives of the 19 firefighters Sunday.

"They have a lot of work ahead of them," said Milby.  "It just takes subtle changes in relative humidity and wind to make these fires [in the West] really blow up."

The moisture and humidity of Virginia's climate prevent most fires from spreading as quickly as they do in the West.  The Virginia Department of Forestry said the worst time for forest fires in Virginia is typically February, when dry cold fronts tend to hit the Commonwealth.

As for the tragedy in Arizona, Milby said his thoughts are with the crews still battling flames out West.

"When you hear of a man down, it hits home," Milby said.

The Virginia Department of Forestry suggests people who live in wooded rural area should read up on things that can spark forest fires.  Information is available on their website.