An annual wildland firefighting drill took on a sense of urgency Wednesday as officials continued to predict a worse-than-average fire season this year.
The event, now in its third year, had been scheduled for months, but state fire agencies have been eager to prepare for a potentially busy summer, said Rural/Metro Chief Gary Morris.
“It’s like a football team training,” Morris said. “If we don’t train, we don’t win the game. We train to win.”
More than 150 firefighters from 23 agencies across the state split into teams and spread out across Usery Mountain Park in Mesa with the charge of fighting a fictional, 580-acre fire.
Although it was only a drill, Incident Commander Ward Fleger reminded the firefighters they could be fighting a fire like the Cave Creek Complex fire, which burned nearly 250,000 acres last year.
“We all know things can get bad pretty fast,” Fleger said.
In one area, firefighters marched single file to snake water hoses across the desert in less than a minute.
Another team practiced using fire shelters, protective tarps similar in size and shape to one-person tents. At the signal, about 10 firefighters hit the ground and pulled their pea-podlike shelters around them.
Although the fire shelters deflect heat, they are not fireproof and should only be used as a last resort, said Jason Allred, a firefighter from the U.S. Forest Service.
The firefighters also watched a demonstration for the use of Barricade, a foamy substance that can provide a short-term fire barrier.
During the demonstration, the foam was sprayed onto a wooden board to preserve the integrity of the park’s plants.
But not all of the plants at the park were left untouched.
Each team fired up chain saws, trimming trees and clearing shrubs within a 30-foot radius at the park to practice protecting homes.
In another drill, helicopters flew circles around the park, picking up water in one area and dumping it in another, while crews on the ground worked to maintain the water supply.
While the hands-on exercises were the main focus, another function of the training was to promote cooperation among the fire agencies, said Jim Hartsfield, training captain at Rural/Metro.