Superior profile from NatGeo.
Who are the elite hotshots, which lost 19 firefighters in a Arizona blaze on Sunday?
The 19 firefighters who lost their lives battling a raging wildfire in centralArizona on Sunday were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of U.S. wildfire firefighters based in Prescott, Arizona.
Hotshot crews—there are roughly 107 in the U.S.—consist of 20 firefighters who have been specifically trained to respond to fires in remote regions with little or no logistical support.
"In the world of wildland firefighting today, the hotshot crews are similar to the Special Forces in the military," said Dick Smith, a retired firefighter who spent 38 years fighting wildfires with the U.S. Fire Service. "They’re highly trained and can meet the highest physical requirements."
Candidates for the Granite Mountain Hotshots had to show that they could pass the arduous Pack Test and complete a series of physical activities, ranging from 40 sit-ups in 60 seconds to 7 pull-ups to a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) run in just under 11 minutes.
"We believe in rigorous physical and mental training, which allows us to perform at the optimum level in any location and under any circumstances," said the Hotshots’ website.
"We are routinely exposed to extreme environmental conditions, long work hours, long travel hours and the most demanding of fire line tasks."
Becoming a Hotshot
The 2,000 or so firefighters who make up the nation’s elite hotshot crews work in groups of 20, in crews scattered across the United States. During peak wildfire season, the crews are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
1/5th of department lost. “Hotshots" are our nation’s most elite fire fighter. They work in teams of 20, and hike miles while carrying 40-50 pounds of equipment each into extreme terrains. They are very physically strong, train for many months, and are pridefully dedicated to protecting America’s lands. According to an official quoted in this article, Hotshots work long hours and will often sleep near the wildfires to help teams develop fire lines (a technique used to stop fires from spreading). I hate to say that more brave firefighters will be hurt and possibly die due to increasing droughts and extreme temperatures over the decades to come.
Nineteen firefighters were killed Sunday battling a blaze in Arizona, the state forestry division said.
They were part of an elite squad confronting wildfires on the front line, setting up barriers to stop the spreading destruction. But in their unpredictable world, it doesn’t take much to turn a situation deadly.
In this case, a wind shift and other factors caused a central Arizona fire, which now spans almost 9,000 acres, to become erratic, said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.
The inferno proved too much, even for the shelters the 19 firefighters carried as a last-ditch survival tool.
"The fuels were very dry, the relative humidity was low, the wind was coming out of the south. It turned around on us because of monsoon action," Reichling told CNN affiliate KNXV. "That’s what caused the deaths.
The firefighters from Prescott were killed Sunday while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire, northwest of Phoenix.
(H)ealthy, resilient forests actually need fire to thrive.
That concept has been the centerpiece of U.S. forest fire policy for almost two decades now. The 1995 Wildland Fire Policy, which governs firefighting on public lands and wilderness areas, states: “Wildland fire, as a critical natural process, must be reintroduced into the ecosystem.” The policy (which does not, by the way, in any way prohibit fighting fires that threaten life or property) grew out of the modern views of ecologists, who today see that flames are as much a part of a forest as the trees. Firefighting, in the view of many of these ecologists, should focus on protecting homes, watersheds, and critical infrastructure. But blazes in more remote woodlands should be allowed to run their course — a policy that wastes less money on fighting fires that won’t hurt anyone, while making forests healthier overall.
Yet not everyone sees it that way.
Images of the Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs show how devastating a wildfire can be. Why are more homes being built in these kinds of areas?
What a great exploration of how our communities are built. Click through and press “listen” if you can. The answers are surprising, especially if you’re new to urban planning, disaster management, and land use development.
Good question. Two points. First, disasters are typically measured by economic impact, not lives or environmental damage.
So, the Black Forest Fire(good wiki entry) is the “worst in state history” due to the number of homes destroyed, which is now close to 500.
Agreed. There were many other fires in Colorado that were geographically larger, destroyed more volumes of trees and habitat, killed more animals, and killed more people.
Natural disasters that kill a lot of people are categorized as “deadliest” (here’s a list). Damage to ecosystems are categorized as “environmental disasters” (this later category is, if memory serves, unofficial and possibly arbitrary since disasters are measured by relative [shorter term] economic impact).
Second point is there are known, but little discussed, problems in the field of journalism. Among them: Using proper definitions; filtering bias; incorporating appropriate perspective; and time.
Time is especially problematic in disaster reporting because the information flow is fast paced and constantly shifting. Thus, as you pointed out, early reports include incorrect terms that (usually) disappear as the story develops.
In the case of Black Forest Fire, early reports may have (I did not check) stated it was one of the “largest” fires rather than just “worst.” Recent reports have clarified it as the “worst.”
Does that help?
The sequester (a budget deal Obama made with republicans last year) cut more than $115 million from the federal wildland fire program budget, USDA officials have said, at a time when the nation continues to face abnormally dry conditions, particularly in the West, as a result of climate change.
During one of the worst wildfire seasons on record amid a historic drought, the USDA Forest Service ran out of money last year to pay firefighters, operate trucks and fly aircraft. The agency borrowed money from fire management budgets, which help prevent fires, to pay for suppression.
Given the cuts in the Forest Service’s fire budget because of sequestration, and the outlook for significant fire potential in much of the West, that process could play out again, a USDA spokesman said.
“If the U.S. Forest Service exhausts funding . . . for fire suppression in 2013, as it did in 2012, it will be necessary for the agency to transfer funds from other programs to cover fire suppression costs,” said the spokesman, Larry Chambers.