Why fire shelters didn't save Yarnell Hill crew from death

5:39 PM, Jul 1, 2013   |    comments
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By Grant Bissell

Gray Summit, MO (KSDK) - Local firefighters could be called at any minute to help fight a number of wildfires burning out west. One of them is Assistant Chief Byron Long of the Boles Fire Protection District in Gray Summit.

Long has recently traveled to Texas and Montana to help with wildfire operations.

Long says the 19 members of a hot shot crew that were killed in Yarnell Hill, Arizona are a stark reminder of how dangerous the job can be. But he's still got a gear bag ready to go in case he's called.

Each member of the Yarnell Hill crew deployed a tent-like fire shelter. But the blaze was so intense, their training couldn't save them.

Long says if a firefighter has to use one of those shelters, they're already in trouble.

The shelters are made of an aluminum-type material. They're designed to cover a firefighter from head to toe and deflect heat from a surrounding fire. Each firefighter carries a shelter in his or her gear. If things get bad the firefighter ill use a hand tool to dig a trench to lie in then climb inside the shelter.

But Long says there's a catch.

"The shelters are only good for a few minutes of protection," said Long. "and even if you're under the shelter you're going to get burned and probably have to go to the hospital."

Long says hundreds of firefighters have used the shelters in recent years and survived. He believes the Yarnell Hill team was surrounded by flames for an extended period of time and that's what led to their deaths.



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