Having helped battle a number of brush fires in and around Mesa, Michael Rosette recalls inferno-like temperatures, visibility-limiting smoke and — at times — chaos.

Those memories enable him to understand the working conditions of those fighting the Wallow fire.

“Working a brush fire is a lot of hard, physical work,” said Rosette, a Mesa deputy fire chief. “The guys working out there now? I have a special respect and appreciation for what they are doing.”

Rosette is supervising the Mesa department’s contingent of two units and seven men that have been working the Wallow fire — which as of Thursday afternoon had stretched to more than 348,000 acres in size and was uncontained — over the last seven days.

A four-man Mesa engine crew is in the area around Alpine; a brush crew is in Nutrioso. Both units have been tabbed with structure protection — patrolling neighborhoods, putting out spot fires, trimming potential fire-fueling brush and spraying houses and other buildings with fire-retardant foam.

All Mesa firefighters have basic wildfire training, but those with larger-fire experience “gravitate,” Rosette said, to the department’s wildland team. 

“Those members are actually able to be deployed on larger fires because they have had specialized training and more expertise in that area,” Rosette said. “They typically will be guys who came from smaller departments that handled a lot of wildfires.”

The work can be grueling and long.

Rosette said that on one day, one of the Mesa units returned to camp to learn it had been assigned the night shift, sending it back out for what ultimately became a 24-hour rotation. A night shift is slightly less demanding, as the wind typically dies down and the fire is not as aggressive.

Shifts usually last from 12-16 hours.

“They may be awake and paying attention for 24 hours, but physically, you can’t go for that long without collapsing,” Rosette said. “After 12 to 16 hours, they report back to camp for downtime.”

Firefighters are on a 14-day cycle before getting three to five days off. Some firefighters will stay close to the action while off, but Mesa requires its men to come home.

Rosette said that Mesa is diligent about tending to the families of deployed firefighters.

“As you can imagine, there are family stressers and things that need to be taken care of,” Rosette said. “We get them out and switch with fresh personnel.

“There’s stress on all the guys, especially those with young families at home. Other agencies are sensitive to it as well, but in Mesa, we keep in contact with all the families and try to address their needs. When the guys are gone, it stresses everybody.”

Mesa figures to contribute manpower to the Wallow fire fight for as long as a month.

“I’m working on a rotation schedule to switch crews out for that far out,” Rosette said, “and that’s predicting that we’ll get some containment in the next week or so.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6301 or dzeiger@evtrib.com

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