Hotshot fire crews use simple tools to do an elite job - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Hotshot fire crews use simple tools to do an elite job


The fire crew killed in the Yarnell Hill fire was known as a "hotshot" crew. They specialize in using hand tools on the front lines, and are known as "the elite."

Some tools look like nothing more than a shovel with serrated edges and a pick on the end. It's one of many tools grounds crews use to get -- and keep -- a fire under control.

"Digging lines and removing material out of the way like a hoe," explains Daniel Duncum, a Texas A&M Forest Service Urban District Forester.

Pine needles and downed limbs are some of that material that must be moved out of the way. That leaves just dirt, which gives the fire nothing to burn and nowhere to go. Some of the tools the Texas A&M Forest Service demonstrated were likely the ones the Arizona hotshot team was using Sunday.

"As a team works together, starting of with 20 people, you get them to work rapidly and accurately, timing, communication. They're constantly training if they're not on a fire," says Duncum.

Aside from all of the tools, ground crews carry a backpack of necessities to last them an entire day. First aid kits, water, food, batteries and lights aren't even half of it. One of the most important supplies in a life-threatening situation is the fire shelter.

"If they're left handed, they'll put this on the left side, so they can reach back there. They'll pop [the case] open and pull this shelter out. Then they'll take it out of the plastic," says Duncum.

They step inside the shelter and the drop to the ground. The cocoon of asbestos and fiberglass has proven to be life-saving. The shelters are costly and can only be used once, though crews would rather not have to use them at all.

"Once the fire passes over--- there's a lot of wind, a lot of noise-- It takes a lot of discipline to stay under the shelter," says Duncum.

The fire is just one obstacle these wild land crews face. They're also battling the heat, smoke, steep and rocky terrain and wildlife. The firefighters say there's a lot that homeowners can do to keep their property and the firefighters safe.

"A lot of it is just maintaining the property and being prepared for when the next fire occurs. It's going to reduce the fire intensity. It really can affect the safety of fire fighters and homeowners," says Luke Kanclerz, a Texas A&M Forest Service Wildland Urban Interface Specialist.

Removing downed brush, limbs and pruning the limbs on your trees keeps the fire from spreading directly to your house and creates space for crews to defend your home.

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