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Arizona Firefighter Deaths A Tragic Reminder Of Wildfire Dangers

San Diego Firefighters Train For Similar Life Threatening Situations

Video

San Diego Firefighters Bracing For Tough Summer And Fall

Aired 7/2/13 on KPBS News.

The Arizona wildfire that claimed the lives of 19 firefighters is a tragic reminder of the danger of firefighting. San Diego firefighters have been training for similar life-threatening situations and bracing for a tough summer and fall.

— The Arizona wildfire that claimed the lives of 19 firefighters is a tragic reminder of the danger of firefighting.

San Diego firefighters have been training for similar life-threatening situations and bracing for a tough summer and fall.

Firefighters from around San Diego County teamed up near Barona in San Diego's East County to prepare for a potentially dangerous fire season, May 22, 2013.

Record-dry vegetation around the county is a huge concern this year among the firefighting community because low fire fuel moisture levels can create greater fire intensity and higher and faster moving flames.

The combined elements can be extremely dangerous for fire crews.

Stephen Fillmore, forest fuels officer with the Cleveland National Forest, trained firefighters earlier this year on fire behaviors and fuel moisture to help keep them safe when they're on the front lines.

"Every firefighter has a stake in what’s going on," Fillmore said, "and the more that they know about the fuel moistures and all the other sort of environmental parameters that are happening on a fire, conceivably the safer they’ll be.

Fillmore said fires with drier fuel beds exhibit larger and more dramatic flame heights.

"The energy that the fire is putting into sustaining itself gets lost when it's trying to evaporate off that moisture," Fillmore explained. "When it’s not having to do that, then the fire can put more energy into the flame lengths and how fast it moves."

Firefighters meet up after completing a brush clearing training in San Diego's East County on May 22, 2013.

Fillmore said situational awareness can be life saving for firefighters, but strong winds add a whole new level of danger.

Shifting winds of 40 to 50 mph gusts reportedly created a death trap on Sunday for 19 elite squad firefighters from Prescott, Arizona. The men were fighting the lightning-caused Yarnell Hill Fire 30 miles to the south.

California’s wildfire season is off to a ferocious start. Firefighters have battled nearly 2,000 fires so far this year and the peak of the season is still months away.

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