Phoenix firefighters called to tackle Wallow Fire - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Phoenix firefighters called to tackle Wallow Fire

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Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 4:01 pm, Fri Jun 10, 2011.

The Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona has become the second largest fire in Arizona history and now Phoenix firefighters have been called to join in the fight.

Eighteen Phoenix firefighters were deployed to eastern Arizona along with six other support staff, including mechanics and battalion leaders. Four fire engines were also asked to join crews already fighting the fire.

"In Arizona there are by agreement at the state level various contracts to help each other out at the time of emergency," said Capt. Tony Mure of the Phoenix Fire Department. "Obviously, this is that type of emergency."

The fire was still 0 percent contained Wednesday afternoon when Phoenix firefighters were called in. Officials fear the fire could be on its way to being the largest Arizona has ever seen.

Mure said Phoenix firefighters are not accustomed to this type of fire fighting when they mostly experience structural fires, but so far they have been assigned as part of a task force trying to protect the homes in Greer neighborhoods. Mure believes even though Phoenix firefighters are not used to fighting wildfires the skills they do have will transfer easily.

"Our expertise is structural fire fighting," Mure said. "We don't usually cut down pine trees or use rakes and shovels to dig fire lines, but we're not doing those fire lines. We're helping the wildland teams to do that. We're working on the threat to the housing and commercial buildings that are in the middle of a forest. Just as we would apply here in the city that if we have one structure burning and it's threatening others - where do we cut that off at? How can we stop it? That kind of training can be applied up there."

Mure said he believes the Phoenix firefighters are working 12-hour shifts but it may depend on the station they are called to. It's unknown how long they may be gone for but Mike Reichling of the Tempe Fire Department said usually when crews are deployed it's for a 14- to 21-day period.

"It is a lot to consider if you do have a family or even if you're single. It takes a certain type of person who can do that," said Brad Miller, spokesman for the Chandler Fire Department, which sent nine firefighters. "Our first crew that went up there worked like 36 hours straight. The other one was a 25-hour work period. It's a lot of hard work and they need to be ready for that."

Watching the fire spreading in eastern Arizona may be a good reminder to those living near the desert to clear away any dead or dry brush from around their homes.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Shirley Mahoney said she's worried about an empty lot near her house that has some overgrown brush.

"It's a dirt lot, there's no building on it, but there are weeds that are maybe 5 feet tall," Mahoney said on Wednesday. "This morning when I turned on the news the first thing they're talking about is wildfires all over the state. If there was a brush fire in that lot, all it would take is somebody flipping a cigarette bud into all those weeds. I really worry about that."

Mure said Phoenix Fire Department does issue violations for property owners who don't take care of the weeds on their lots. They usually go out once a year and actively search for violations but residents can file complaints year-round and request a firefighter to come inspect the land. Residents can call the city's Neighborhood Services Department at (602) 262-7344 to request a firefighter to come out and issue a violation.

To protect your own home from unexpected brush fires Mure suggests keeping trees and shrubs 30 to 50 feet away from any structures and being away of landscaping in the yard that may create a ladder for any fire that could travel from grass to a bush, to a tree and onto the house.

He also suggests keeping your roof free of any pine needles. Get rid of any dead trees or dead branches on trees or bushes.

Officials believe an unattended camp fire may be the cause of the Wallow Fire.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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