The deaths of 19 firefighters battling a wildfire in Arizona were a tough blow to South Carolina firefighters who do the same job here.
“I may not know those guys, I may not have ever met them, but I do feel connected to them because we're in the same battle,” says Chief Darryl Jones, who heads Forest Protection for the South Carolina Forestry Commission.
“Very well trained, a unit that had been together and fought fire a lot, that's very experienced, that's a big shock and it makes you realize that it can happen anywhere, anytime, regardless of the amount of training. There are things that happen that you just can't control,” he says.
He says the state has not been asked to send anyone to help with the Arizona wildfire, but since South Carolina is so wet right now, lowering the wildfire danger, he would send help if asked.
The Arizona firefighters had deployed their emergency shelters, a last resort that all those who fight wildfires carry with them. Those shelters are aluminum on one side, with a woven silica layer inside, says South Carolina firefighters Brad Bramlett.
He demonstrated it Monday, pulling the shelter out of its rectangular case.
“As you unfold it, you step into on both sides, make sure your feet are in the top and bottom,” he says. “And as you're laying in your tent, you keep it real tight to the ground with both your hands and feet and keep your head as low to the ground as possible to keep that breathable airspace down and also as cool a temperature as possible.”
Those shelters saved the lives of two South Carolina firefighters who were battling a wildfire in Horry County in 2009. One of them was Terry Cook, who said, “It's very loud. It's like a freight train running right over top of you. It's very bright. Your tent is glowing.”
The Forestry Commission is also in the process of upgrading its bulldozers. The older models have open-air cabs, but the new ones have cabs that are enclosed and air-conditioned, giving the firefighters protection from smoke and embers.
The enclosed cabs also give the firefighters additional protection if a wildfire turns and the firefighter gets trapped.
State lawmakers provided the money to buy about 10 new bulldozers a year for five years, but the Forestry Commission is hoping to find additional funding to be able to replace all of its older, open-cab bulldozers.