USA — A 20-acre brush fire in East Naples on Feb. 17 was just the beginning.
An hour later, firefighters were called to a second fire in Golden Gate Estates. The next day, a 400-acre inferno erupted in Hendry County, while firefighters battled two smaller fires in Charlotte County.
And its only February.
Anyone with a dried-out, brown lawn knows things are dry in Southwest Florida. The recent brush fires may be a harbinger of bigger, more dangerous fires ahead.
Just in time for the 2008 brush fire season, the Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District recently purchased 70 new fire shelters at $369 apiece to protect its firefighters should they be trapped while battling a wildfire.
The purchase was made using a $47,115 grant obtained from the Golden Gate Estates Land Trust Advisory Committee.
The money comes from land sales, Golden Gate fire spokesman Victor Hill said. The money goes into a trust and is used for projects that benefit the Estates.
Firefighters carry the shelters on their belts.
The shelters, which come in a package about the size of a loaf of bread, are deployed like a pup tent. Fiberglass and woven silica cloth layers with an outer and inner layer of aluminum foil reflect radiant heat and absorb convective heat, protecting the firefighter inside.
It could be the difference between getting burned and getting killed, said Golden Gate Capt. Scott Birge, who is in charge of training for the department.
The Golden Gate fire department purchased about a dozen of the shelters after two firefighters were trapped and burned during a large blaze in Golden Gate Estates in 1999, Birge said. The department had enough of the shelters to keep two on each of its four brush trucks.
Now the department has enough to assign one to each of the departments more than 60 firefighters.
I hope I never have to use it, but its there, Firefighter Jose Garcia said.
Officials say the shelters are a last option when all attempts to escape have failed.
Firefighter safety is one of the most important aspects of our job, Hill said. This is another way for us to ensure our people are safe on the wildfires.
In addition to the fire shelters, the department is using the grant to purchase new VHF radios.