Wildfires hit close to home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2002

While wildfires rage across seven Western states and now in small pockets of the rest of the country, Shelby Countians can be proud that five of our own have been in the middle of it all … fighting fires and risking their lives.

According to national statistics, 2.3 million acres have already burned across the United States, setting a pace to be the worst year ever in our nation’s history as far as wildfires.

The fires, they say, could even burn more than the 8.4 million acres burned in 2000 based on the fact that it is only June and early in the traditional burning season.

Pelham Fire Chief Gary Waters and Capt. David McCurry were deployed recently to help fight the wildland fires in the western United States.

Waters is in Colorado, serving as a structural protection specialist. McCurry served in a remote area of New Mexico as a squad boss. He returned this week. North Shelby firefighter Jim Terrell and Pelham firefighters William Smith and Danny Ray were deployed to Virginia Monday to fight a wildfire there.

The Shelby County firefighters were trained in wildland firefighting at the Wildland Firefighting School held in Wilton the past two years.

The school is a joint effort between local firefighters and state and national forestry officials.

Alabama and Shelby County are at risk for the same type of wildfires burning across the rest of the nation, according to national forecasters predicting the Southeast as one of the next areas susceptible to fires.

It’s a relief to know that several of our area firefighters are highly trained in wildland firefighting should a fire of this magnitude ever occur in our area.

On a personal level, my brother and his family, who live in Castle Rock, Colo., are just 10 miles from the edge of the largest fire of them all, the Hayman fire southwest of Denver. They, like hundreds of other families, remain on alert should winds spread the fire to the east.

The Hayman fire has burnt more than 115,000 acres, forcing some 6,000 people from their homes. The fire damage has set up an interesting debate between politicians, environmentalists, foresters and homeowners.

Governors from western states contest that controlled burns would have reduced the fire-prone undergrowth.

They accuse environmentalists of hampering this process with lawsuits and constant opposition in congress and on the state level.

Groups like the Sierra Club have led the anti-control burn faction.

The group is an excellent watchdog organization on many issues, but I would have to agree with those who fight the wildfires, including our local men, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When you see a fire burning along a road in Shelby County, it’s in all likelihood a controlled burn by foresters. That burn helps prevent the possibility of a future deadly and destructive fire like the ones we’ve seen on TV every night in recent weeks