EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 2, 2013

Local crews could help battle Arizona wildfire

Local firefighters prepared to head West

By Alex Lippa

---- — As a deadly wildfire continues to burn in Arizona, a local group of firefighters is ready to help if needed.

The fire, which killed 19 firefighters in Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday evening, had expanded to 13 square miles yesterday. The fire destroyed dozens of homes and sent hundreds fleeing.

While the fire is spreading in Arizona, Capt. John Dodge of the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands waits to see if his crew will be needed out West.

“I’ve made my crew available to them,” said Dodge, who is the coordinator for the out-of-state fire program. “They usually look within their own geographic management areas first. But then, if help is still needed, they will branch out even more.”

The group includes some 20 specially trained firefighters from around New Hampshire. Many work full time with their local departments, while others are strictly volunteers.

“Most have a strong interest in wildfires,” Dodge said.

David Kullgren of Allenstown has been on the crew since 2000 and has traveled across the country and beyond to respond to fires.

“I’ve been to Colorado, Idaho and California,” he said. “We go to Quebec sometimes as well.”

Kullgren said there is a thrill level which comes with fighting some of the biggest fires.

“We enjoy helping people and doing what we can,” he said. “But there’s a bit of excitement that goes with it, too. We get to travel all over to places we would never ever see.”

The state runs a program to train each member of the crew. The group is classified as a Type 2 initial response level crew.

“It’s below the level of the crew which was in Arizona,” said Doug Miner, state forest ranger and fire specialist for the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Land.

The firefighters in Arizona covered themselves with a tent-like shelter made of fire-resistant material, but still did not survive. The shelter is only used in the most extreme conditions.

In New Hampshire, Dodge said, they have never had to use the shelters.

“I would say there’s been millions of those shelters that have been produced nationwide,” he said. “But the number that has actually been deployed is in the hundreds.”

Miner said New Hampshire usually sees about 500 wildfires of varying sizes a year.

“The magnitude is nothing like you see in the West,” he said. “But there’s still the potential for significant several-thousand-acre fires.”

To prevent forest fires, there are 16 lookout towers spread throughout the state, including one in Derry on Warner Hill.

“We have people out there if it’s a Class Three fire danger or higher,” said Krullman, who is one of the people who staffs the Derry tower. “We will scan the area and respond to something if we see some smoke.”

The Arizona fire was the topic of conversation yesterday at local fire stations.

“It’s just a tragedy,” Plaistow fire Chief John McArdle said. “It shows that Mother Nature can still win the battle, no matter how well we think we are prepared.”

Salem fire Capt. Stephane Cattin said his department is planning to do something to honor the victims.

“It’s just sadness and shock,” he said. “It reinforces just how dangerous of a profession this is.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.