Florida firefighters mourn loss of Arizona crew, ready to help


Published: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

As firefighters across the country mourn the loss of 19 members of an elite fire crew on Sunday in Arizona, Florida officials say they are prepared to assist western efforts if needed.

“Now that Florida has had a significant amount of rainfall, that creates a situation where we’re available for western deployment,” Ludie Bond, Florida Forest Service spokeswoman, said on Monday.

The wildfire raging near Yarnell, Ariz., cost the team of firefighters their lives on Sunday, the greatest loss of firefighters in a wildfire since 1933, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Officials say the fire was caused by a lightning strike and has spread to more than 8,000 acres.

Matt Weinell, Florida Forest Service fire resource manager, said the season for western wildfires seems to be starting early with the help of major heat waves.

He said over the summer, the Florida Forest Service has crews in the west to help with disasters like this. However, it’s more economical for Arizona to call closer crews to them. The nearest crews can work their way east, and different agencies can help with the fire.

But Sunday’s tragic loss resonated with crews across the country, Weinell said.

“It’s a sad day for those folks. We feel for them,’’ he said. “We’ve also lost firefighters before.”

In June 2011, two Florida Division of Forestry rangers were killed fighting a blaze in Hamilton and Columbia counties near the Georgia border.

Josh Burch, 31, of Lake City, and Brett Fulton, 52, of White Springs, died in a burnover while fighting the 200-acre Blue Ribbon fire.

Rangers Robert Marvin and Stephen Carpenter suffered smoke- and heat-related injuries while trying to help Burch and Fulton. They were treated and released from hospitals in Lake City and Gainesville.

Before that, the last DOF firefighter to die in a burnover was in 1985, according to the forestry service. The last DOF firefighter to die on duty was a pilot in 2000.

The agency changed its name from DOF to the Florida Forest Service in 2011.

Bond said the Florida Forest Service has resources that can be made available and ready to be deployed due to the increase in wildfires out west.

The Resource Ordering Status System allows the Forest Service to see what is needed. The Forest Service can send equipment and personnel to help with the wildfires in the west.

The service can send a hand crew and management team. The crew is made up of about 12 to 15 members who use pickaxes and other tools to create a fire line to slow the advance of the fire. A full team is about 30 members.

The Florida Forest Service can deploy varying kinds of teams depending on the size of the fire, how many homes have been lost, how many lives have been lost, and the amount and kind of equipment needed.

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