“In nearly 20 years of firefighting, today was hands down one of the most incredible firefights I’ve ever been in.”
— Jay Walter, Daisy Mountain Fire Department
Jay Walter is one of many Arizona firefighters helping fight the infernos in Southern California. He’s been working the Thomas Fire—which began Dec. 4 and has burned more than 270,000 acres—for nearly two weeks. As of yesterday he had more than 1,000 firefighters working under his command.
Walter, a wildfire expert with Daisy Mountain Fire Department, shot several video snippets that were then produced into one dramatic video revealing the wicked winds, steep terrain and dangerous conditions wildland firefighters face. Partway through the video, a helmet cam shows Walter spraying water on a home using a garden hose as flames race up the hillside toward him.
Could something like the Thomas Fire happen here?
“DMFD has never faced anything like what we are seeing in California this year, however that does not mean that we are at any less of a risk,” said Brent Fenton, a DMFD public information officer who produced the video. “Many areas across our state, and within our district, are long overdue for a fire.”
The video shows how the intense Santa Ana winds have played a primary role in spreading the Thomas Fire.
“Sometimes these fires can scorch an area the size of a football field in as little as 3 seconds,” Fenton told North Phoenix News.
As of this morning, the fire was 50 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. It has destroyed more than 1,000 structures, and 18,000 remained threatened.
“It is a sobering reminder of the importance of defensible space around homes, but it is also a reminder that wildfires are extremely dangerous and sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent a catastrophic loss to properties when the fires are being pushed by gale-force winds,” Fenton said.
He cited this as a reason why people should heed evacuation orders.
Lessons to Learn
Asked what DMFD will learn from Walter’s deployment, Fenton had this to say:
“Anytime our Wildland Division team members deploy to a wildfire, they come back with a wealth of knowledge and experience that improves the service that our team provides,” he said. “We continuously train throughout the year, and discuss lessons learned to always improve the service that we provide.”
Despite the obvious dangers, there are limits to what firefighters can and will do.
“We risk a lot, in a calculated manner, to save a savable life,” Fenton said. “We risk little to save savable property. We will risk nothing to save what has already been lost.”
Which brings Fenton to some advice for Arizona residents:
“Prevention is the key,” he said. “A defensible space will buy time, time that could save your life if a fast-spreading wildfire was to ignite. Making sure that homeowners take on the responsibility of making a defensible space around their property is absolutely key in helping us, as firefighters, save your property and slow the spread of wildfires.”