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E. Ky. wildfire threat no less severe

By: Matthew Rand Email
By: Matthew Rand Email

BETSY LAYNE, Ky. (WMYT) - As firefighters continue to battle the blaze in Arizona, ladder men in Eastern Kentucky say their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 19 "Hotshots" team members that were killed.

Wildfires in the Bluegrass are rarely as severe, but they can still be dangerous to the men and women who fight them.

Wildfires like the one that has destroyed about 50 homes and claimed the lives of 19 firefighters in and around Yarnell, Arizona, are rare in Eastern Kentucky.

Forestry officials say they are usually less intense, but that does not mean they are any less dangerous.

"If the wind gets just right and the humidity is low enough and the fuels are dry enough, bad things can happen here," said Vernon "Tad" Norris with the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Firefighters in Kentucky carry the same emergency equipment, including the same foil-lined fire shelters that failed to spare the members of the Hotshots team.

"If the fire is for certain going to burn over you, you would deploy that shelter, get in it, and let the fire burn over you, but that's a last resort," Norris said.

In Pikeville, firefighters we talked to say they train yearly on how to stay safe while fighting wildfires.

"Whenever you're talking about wild land fires, they may be different out there because it's more open and they have larger wind gusts, but fire is the same anywhere you go," said Mitch Case, a firefighter and EMT with the Pikeville Fire Department.

The 19 men killed by the flames in Yarnell represent the nation's greatest number of firefighter deaths in a wildfire in 80 years; a loss felt deeply in the firefighter fraternity.

"Particularly in the western states, we're losing firefighters at an increasing rate," Norris said. "These fires are getting larger and larger. They're turning into mega-fires and taking people's lives."

Firefighters we talked to say their job always carries a certain level of risk, but they hope new methods will come out of this tragedy to make fighting wildfires safer.

Officials say the Kentucky Division of Forestry has mutual-aid agreements with several western states, and may be called upon for help later this summer.

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