How a wildfire is fought

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By Sarah Blais By Sarah Blais

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- We're used to seeing fire trucks and stations scattered around our towns here in the Valley. It isn't often we recognize the wildland crews patrolling the surrounding areas.

It's much different fighting a wildfire than a building fire.

Scottsdale fire Capt. Jaime Majchrzak explains how crews prepare for these unique blazes.

"In a structure fire, we try to keep it contained to that box, whether it's a house or a building, and go at it fast and aggressive," Majchrzak said. "On the wildland, we don't have that confinement. It's fast moving; the topography is going to determine the fire behavior on it. So we really have to determine where this fire is going to be, and how we fight it."

Another noticeable difference is the lack of fire hydrants. Crews are trained not to rely on them; instead, they bring a ganzer pack, which contains multiple hoses to extend up to 1,000 feet from the fire truck.

Because wildland specialists are almost always outdoors, firefighters can't bundle up in the familiar turnout gear they wear to fight structural fires.

"On the wildland, we can't wear those," Majchrzak said. "Our shifts are 12 to 16 hours, so we have to wear much lighter weight. It still provides protection, but not as much as the turnout gear."

Instead, they opt for regular hardhats and breathable shirts so they won't tire as quickly. By wearing light clothing, it enables them to wear most of their gear, such as chainsaws, shovels and chopping tools.

In Scottsdale, the most notable wildland is the Sonoran McDowell Preserve, which covers 30,000 acres. Scottsdale crews are trained both for wildland and structural fires.

The preserve will be closed starting at 3 p.m. for the Fourth of July in order to keep the land safe.

Firefighters have a well-known brotherhood, and it's always difficult for them to lose one of their own.

"It's a saddening event," said Capt. Lance Parker of the Scottsdale Fire Department. "I think the Prescott fire chief said it best: Don't take his demeanor that he doesn't care; it's a tragic event. But we have to take their place and move on."