TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Almost a year before predictions that the summer of 2018 would be a dry, dangerous one for wildland fires across Arizona, leadership at Tucson Fire Department started planning out a new program.
Several first responders from TFD currently train with surrounding agencies and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management to hone their skills on wildland firefighting.
They don't plan on rushing out to any major fires burning outside city limits though. Engineer KP Maxwell explained that the skills needed for fighting those sorts of fires can be applied to urban areas across Tucson.
"It's a skill set and it's another tool in the toolbox that I think could be useful in the city," he said.
Maxwell has a new gear bag full of the necessary equipment for the more mobile firefighting done by wildland crews. He's already familiar with it. Maxwell worked as a hotshot for five years before joining TFD.
Everyone in the initial training group has some sort of wildland experience.
Urban fire departments are typically focused on isolated structures and protecting those nearby. Maxwell said TFD, and the city in general, will benefit from firefighters learning to prepare for much larger situations that could occur.
"If the conditions are right, high winds, low relative humidity, and high temperatures, a structure catches fire then its easy to throw fire embers to the next structure and to the next structure and then possibly catch a wash on fire then it becomes an artery of fire in the city," he said.
TFD crews responded to approximately 1,300 calls that were classified as brush fires in 2016. None of them became bigger incidents requiring additional attention.
Maxwell's team credits the talent and teamwork of local agencies and dispatchers, but they also consider themselves lucky. There are areas all over the Old Pueblo that have these first responders on alert. Driving around the southeast side, he pointed out an overgrown lot next to a closely packed mobile home park.
"The wind's going to blow it across...and into the end of that plywood right there and catch one of these mobile homes on fire then spread through the whole park," said Maxwell.
Abandoned properties, unkempt yards and debris-filled washes could cause problems for first responders. Maxwell said public awareness is crucial.
Firefighters can train all they want, but it's important for homeowners, homeowner associations, and the community in general to be responsible for clearing any trash or messy vegetation from their neighborhoods.