CARBONDALE, Colorado Urban firefighters are learning tactics for battling wilderness blazes as cities and suburbs increasingly encroach upon undeveloped wooded areas.
Fire officials estimate tens of thousands of homes have been built near undeveloped areas of brush and trees, making them vulnerable to wildfires.
“We’ve got very expensive homes being dropped down into the really dry piñon and juniper forest with minimal forethought,” said Milton Moomaw, a captain with the Agua Fria, New Mexico, fire district south of Santa Fe.
Members of local fire departments compose 44 percent of the 1,100 trainees at this week’s Colorado Wildfire Academy, believed to be the largest school of its kind in the nation.
Volunteer firefighter Nick Anzuoni said he was amazed that a Massachusetts forest blackened by a 50,000-acre wildfire decades ago is now thick with houses, as well as pitch pine and scrub oak.
“You see these houses sitting in this stuff and you go, ‘Oh, my God!'” said Anzuoni, a lieutenant in the Colrain, Massachusetts, Volunteer Fire Department.
Frank Cavaliere, a fire marshal in Cortez, Colorado, said wildland fires were not an issue in the past.
“They’d burn a few hundred acres of trees, maybe a few thousand, and then they’d go out,” Cavaliere said. “Now, more and more people want to get away from urban issues: traffic, pollution, overcrowding. It’s an issue.”
The academy is being held this year near Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters lost their lives 10 years ago.
Eric Hipke, a smokejumper who survived the July 6, 1994, tragedy, is a guest this year. He and others will take fire managers and trainees to 14 crosses that mark the spot where each firefighter fell.
A federal panel concluded the firefighters were overrun by a wall of fire that trapped them on the mountainside. Others have theorized they were killed by a blast of superheated gases.
Hipke hopes to share the lessons he learned that day.
“Don’t be afraid to maybe speak up if you see something wrong,” he said to a group he led up the mountain Wednesday.
Source: Associated Press Story by: P. Solomon Banda