Western wildfires reminiscent of SE Georgia - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Western wildfires reminiscent of SE Georgia

Arizona Hotshots Arizona Hotshots
Chief Forest Ranger Tom Lambert Chief Forest Ranger Tom Lambert

Many firefighters and forest rangers here in South Georgia know exactly how dangerous wildfires can be. In the past six years two massive wildfires - the one in Waycross in 2007 and the Honey Prairie blaze of 2011 - have put crews in harm's way.

The deadly Arizona wildfire that killed 19 firefighters hits close to home for people like Chief Forest Ranger Tom Lambert. "It really brings back the realization of what kind of business we're in and what kind of dangers we face," Lambert said.

In 2007 and again in 2011, Georgia Forestry crews battled wildfires in extreme South Georgia that torched hundreds of thousands of acres in and around the Okefenokee. Just like out west, firefighters are at the mercy of Mother Nature. "Wind can change readily. They change very fast. The speed can increase. The direction can change and you have to be prepared," Lambert said.

Video from 2007 shows how the wildfire near Waycross quickly surrounded some Valdosta firefighters. They fought their way out the blaze until help could arrive. In Arizona, the elite team of hot shots utilized emergency tents like these which can shield them from the heat. But this tool is a last resort.

"It's the last thing that you want to use. It's the last precaution you can take to protect your life. If you can reach a safety zone, it's much better than deploying your shelter," said Lambert.

In this case something went terribly wrong. Lambert has worked with hot shot crews before when battling fires in California and describes them as the best of the best," "They're one of the first crews called out whenever a wildfire occurs out west. They're just a very professional crew," he said.

In this case a crew of 19 men who will forever be remembered as heroes who died on the front lines of the blaze continues to burn. Lambert says he's never had to use an emergency tent, however while the odds are stacked against you, they have saved the lives of firefighters who have found themselves surrounded by flames.

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