Reporting Anjali Hemphill
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The fire shelters 19 firefighters in Arizona deployed before they died on Sunday were a last resort, Cal Fire officials said.
The deaths of those 19 elite firefighters has hit very close to home for firefighters in California.
“We’re seeing very aggressive fire behavior this year, much like they are seeing in Arizona.”
The crew that died were specially trained hot-shot firefighters tasked with building fire lines and escape routes, similar to Cal Fire’s Helitack crews.
“They are the elite crews of our department that fly in by helicopter, get dropped off in the middle of nowhere and go to work fighting fire.”
Daniel Berlant with Cal Fire says several California firefighters have died in similar situations. That’s why they’re trained to always build two escape routes and a safety zones.
“But when the fire changes, when the weather shifts and something dynamic occurs, sometimes those escape routes are cut off.”
Forestry officials in Arizona say the gusty winds are what made the Yarnell Fire get out of control, forcing the 19 who died to deploy the aluminum fire shelters.
“We don’t train to use them, we train in case the fire does make a shift, weather changes, and we have no other option but to deploy.”
It’s made from aluminum and sometimes firefighters can be trapped inside for hours waiting for a fire to burn through.
“But no matter what, it’s better inside than it is outside.”
It’s not clear how the firefighters were killed, but Daniel says fighting fires is always a very risky job.
“Sometimes even with all the safety gear that you have, and all the training you have just isn’t enough to battle Mother Nature.”
Cal Fire says the design of the fire shelters has improved over the years, but it’s still not a guarantee.
Cal Fire says the last time there was a loss in Northern California that is comparable to the Yarnell Fire in Arizona was when 15 firefighters died in the 1950s at a wildfire near Williams.