Local firefighters on call to help with Arizona wildfire - KTUL.com - Tulsa, Oklahoma - News, Weather & Sports

Local firefighters on call to help with Arizona wildfire

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PELHAM - AL -
400 firefighters are battling a massive fire in Arizona. The 13 square mile fire has taken the lives of 19 firefighters.  People turned out on roadsides to pay tribute to them as their bodies were driven away from the fire scene and the deaths may be felt even more by a group of Alabama firefighters who are ready to go whenever they're needed on the front lines of a wildfire.

The city of Pelham has a group of firefighters who are specially trained to fight wildfires similar to the one burning right now in Arizona. Those crews say they keep a bag packed - ready to go at any time. The biggest concern is the increased danger level.

"It's tragic to lose so many at one time," Division Chief David McCurry, Pelham Fire said.

It's the biggest loss of a fire crew in about 80 years.

"For a community to lose 19 firemen is pretty devastating because it involves a lot of families," McCurry said.

"It's really hot, really dirty, for the most part they're digging line and trying to stay as far away from that fire as they can while they're doing it," Brian Underwood, a Pelham Firefighter said.

Brian Underwood understands the pressure felt in Arizona well. He's a Pelham firefighter who has trained to fight wildfires - traveling to Idaho and California.

"You're talking about 40,000 foot plumes of smoke - you're talking about walls of flames there that are 150-250 feet high," Underwood said.
 
You don't see those types of flames here in Alabama - we simply have too much humidity. But western states have very little moisture, dry brush, and high winds.

"Just a very little fire can accelerate to a very large fire in within just a matter of hours," McCurry said.

Pelham crews originally began wild fire training to better protect Oak Mountain State Park and the homes surrounding it, but later trained to help the U.S. Forest Service.

"You try to teach the students fire behavior and then how to suppress that fire," McCurry said.

Even the gear is different. They trade in the heavy suits for lightweight fire proof clothing..

"If we have a fire at Oak Mountain, instead of putting on turn out gear - because we would die of a heat stroke, we put these shirts on on the way and try to wear a lighter helmet," Underwood said.

"You have to be on call 24/7," McCurry said. "They can give you a call and say hey if you want to go be at the airport in 3 hours."

"Every fireman everywhere, you know, the hair stands up on the back of our neck a little when we go into work because you just never know what's going to happen," Underwood said.

We also spoke with the Alabama Forestry Commission. The spokesperson told us they send crews every year to help in western states and they are ready in case Arizona firefighters need additional assistance.

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