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Local firemen train to fight wildfires

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HANDS-ON EDUCATION - Wise County firefighters learned different techniques and various methods to fight wildfires in a recent class. The two-and-a-half day class included a live burn conducted near Boyd. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

As the flames licked at the grass, devouring everything in their path, firefighters were on the front lines, holding them at bay and eventually dousing the threat.

Although this area has seen catastrophic grass fires, these flames were the culmination of a wildfire firefighter training, hosted by the Decatur Fire Department.

Members from 10 Wise County departments participated in the class based on a nationally recognized curriculum. It was taught by Scott Fry with the U.S. Forest Service at the Grasslands, and Mark McGuire, regional fire coordinator with the Texas Forest Service, as well as private contractors.

Wise County Fire Marshal Marc Dodd said the class was offered in the past, and he wants to begin offering it regularly, hopefully every six months.

“We’re trying to raise the level of training for firefighters and wildfire to get more specific information and training,” he said. “These departments are working to improve their skills for the grass fire season.”

Even though firefighters do their best to protect the community, Dodd said they simply can’t protect every home when a large-scale fire moves across the countryside.

“When we have a wind-driven fire, which are the most devastating wildfires we have, the fire department can’t protect every home. So if you don’t take steps to protect your own home by creating a defensible space and survivable space, you’re taking a big chance,” he said.

Dodd suggests homeowners take these steps to protect their property from the threat of grass fires:

  • Keep lawns mowed to a height of 2 inches or less.
  • Store firewood and other combustibles (boat, RV, etc.) at least 30 feet upslope and away from the home.
  • Select plants that are drought tolerant, that have a high moisture content and that are easily pruned and maintained.
  • Select trees such as oak and maples that can help retard fire spread.
  • Keep tree limbs trimmed so that they are 5 to 6 feet off the ground.
  • Avoid planting vegetation with high oil and resin content such as pines, cedars and junipers. These types of plants burn quickly and can greatly increase the rate of spread of the fire.
  • Plant small trees and shrubs away from larger trees to avoid creating a ladder of vegetation that could lead a ground fire up into the trees.
  • Restrict the use of flower beds and shrubbery against your house. Nonflammable mulches such as rock and crushed brick are preferred.
  • Do not allow vegetation to grow under decks.
  • Prevent firebrands from entering the home by enclosing decks, foundation and roof/attic openings with screen or hardware cloth.
  • Early evacuation is the safest way to avoid injury or death. Have at least two escape routes, and a safe area where family members can meet to wait out the fire.

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