Firefighters' risks when facing wildfires - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Firefighters' risks when facing wildfires

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BILLINGS, Mont. -

When the discussion of wildfires come up, many people may think a firefighter who passes away while battling a fire, died because of smoke inhalation or the firefighter was burned. However, that's not necessarily the case when it comes to wildland firefighters. Al Nash with the Montana/Dakotas State Office explained smoke inhalation is something that is more of an issue for structure firefighters than it is for wildland firefighters. The Chief of Communications said, "They're not working in an inclosed space where a structural firefighter is in a very enclosed area."

One of the greatest hazards for wildland firefighters are known as widow-makers. "We are talking about trees that have been damaged to some degree. And either the tree itself or a large branch or limb can come down unexpectedly and injure a firefighter," said Nash.

While a hard hat can help, there is only so much protection it provides. Situational awareness is huge for a wildland firefighter. "You are in a very uncontrolled environment. It's going to be hot, typically it can be noisy. You indeed have the ongoing threat from the flaming front wherever it is. And you have changing weather conditions."

Nash explained that most wildland firefighters are very attuned to the threats around them, but spotting the dangers is a different story. "It's not always easy as you're moving through a situation, working on a fire to spot some of those hazards. They're not always obvious."

As for the Northern Rockies Geographic area, which includes all of Montana, it has gone to preparedness level 3. Nash explained, "The increase in the preparedness level reflects an increase in fire activity, a forecast that suggests that that increased activity will continue, and the fact that firefighting resources are becoming more scarce."

Nash is not aware of any Montana firefighters in California, helping battle the wildfires there, but he said when things are quiet in the Treasure State but busy somewhere else, Montana firefighters do go out on assignments.

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