Class simulates forest fire at OMSP

Pelham Fire Department Battalion Chief David McCurry, center, instructs a team of firefighters during a controlled burn training exercise at Oak Mountain State Park on Feb. 9. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Firefighters from several local departments simulated a small-scale forest fire at Oak Mountain State Park on Feb. 9 to prepare for what they said is a realistic danger in Shelby County.

Firefighters from Pelham, Birmingham, Calera and Mountain Brook joined state park officials to conduct a “prescribed burn” near the park’s main gate on John Findlay Drive.

The burn helped remove built-up underbrush from a wooded area of the park, and provided a training exercise for about 12 firefighters taking part in the Wildland Fire Academy Class.

“Our major purpose here today is to help the park with the prescribed burn, but it also gives us a chance to use it as a training exercise,” said Wildland Fire Academy instructor Harry Kepler.

The prescribed burn was part of a weeklong Wildland Fire Academy class. Earlier in the week, the firefighters attended classes in Calera.

Before lighting the fire on Feb. 9, instructors taught the firefighters the basics of containing forest fires by digging trenches around the fire’s perimeter to cut off its fuel supply.

Park officials and class instructors then lit fires in the woods near the park’s new equestrian campground and allowed the firefighters, clad in fire-resistant shirts, hardhats and supply packs, to use their skills to control the fire.

The fire was fueled mostly by fallen leaves and logs, which caused the blaze to spread slowly, Kepler said.

Kepler and Pelham Fire Department Battalion Chief David McCurry said the training helps to ensure local firefighters will have a plan if a wildfire breaks out in the 10,000-acre Oak Mountain State Park or another heavily wooded part of the county.

“Those 10,000 acres lie in Pelham city limits. It’s part of their fire responsibility,” Kepler said, noting many neighborhoods and large houses surround the park’s perimeter. “They’ve got to be ready to protect those houses.”

McCurry said 80 percent of the state park is undeveloped, and said all Pelham firefighters and state park personnel go through wildfire training.

“There’s a lot of potential for major fires out here,” McCurry said. “This (training) teaches them to work together in the woods as a team.”