How Texas Firefighters Meet The Wildland Fire Challenge

During 1999, most of the state of Texas experienced a drought that created high to extreme wildland fire danger ratings. Wildland fires and the wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire problems are challenging structural and wildland firefighters in Texas...


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During 1999, most of the state of Texas experienced a drought that created high to extreme wildland fire danger ratings. Wildland fires and the wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire problems are challenging structural and wildland firefighters in Texas as never before, and these types of fires have been growing in numbers and complexity throughout the state.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Students in the S-130/190 Basic Wildland Firefighting class practice cutting line down to mineral soil with the tools of the trade.


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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Students in the S-234 Firing and Ignition class are given a demonstration of various firing devices by Texas Forest Service Regional Fire Coordinator and Instructor Rich Gray.

W/UI fires have become a serious threat to Texas residents and firefighters alike, and the need to cross-train and cross-equip structural and wildland firefighters to meet this tremendous fire challenge has never been more urgent. The question of how to train and equip these firefighters to safely and effectively fight these fires was on the minds of many fire managers.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Texas Forest Service Regional Fire Coordinator Rich Gray

Some people in the Texas Forest Service, along with local structural career and volunteer firefighters, recognized the problem and developed two wildland and W/UI fire training academies. One is held each spring in Lufkin and the other has become an annual event in Bastrop, not far from Austin, and is called the Capital Area Regional Wildfire Academy and W/UI Conference. It is the focus of this column.

About The Texas Forest Service

The Texas Forest Service (TFS) has been helping to prevent the loss of lives, property and the environment since 1925. The TFS is a state agency and a member of the Texas A&M University system. The agency provides statewide fire suppression and fire prevention/mitigation programs and assists when other natural or human-caused disasters occur. It is a progressive agency and is one of the nation's leaders in the fight against wildland and W/UI fires.

The TFS has about 350 personnel, of which some 150 work in fire suppression and prevention assignments. TFS personnel work closely with the rural and volunteer fire departments. Wildland fires burn an average of 1 million acres each year in Texas. The Rural Fire Defense Section of the TFS administers a new program, "Industrial Helping Hands," that will directly aid volunteer departments by providing firefighting equipment donated by local industry. As of November 1999, more than $6 million worth of fire equipment had been donated. A new W/UI fire prevention program developed by the TFS was recently unveiled. The program, "Living on the Edge," utilizes a high-tech, multi-media traveling display.

Capital Area Wildfire Academy

Kari Gray, a TFS W/UI specialist in Bastrop, is coordinator of the Capital Area Regional Wildfire Academy and successfully orchestrated the first academy in October 1998. Her staff of TFS employees, including Regional Fire Coordinator and Instructor Rich Gray, and a number of the area's volunteer fire department members ably assisted her. The second annual academy was held Oct. 19-31, 1999 and a Wildland/Urban Interface Conference was added and convened Oct. 29-31.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
TFS Instructor Marty Martinez shows students in the P-151 Wildfire Determination And Cause class how to find the evidence from an incendiary fire.


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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Retired U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Troop Emonds demonstrates some new wildland firefighting tools that he designed.

The academy was conducted on the grounds of the Texas Army National Guard's Camp Swift, an ideal setting. The grounds are heavily wooded, away from the public and include a mess hall/kitchen, barracks for sleeping and individual structures for classroom instruction.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Texas Forest Service officials unveil their new prevention program, "Living on the Edge." The high-tech multi-media traveling van and trailer are designed to educate the public about the dangers of the wildland/urban interface.
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