Cal Fire increases drought-conscious training techniques

AUBURN, Calif. – Firefighters are ready for what could be a long and busy summer ahead.

Extreme conditions and low water levels may make it even harder for crews to battle wildfires this season.

"The drought has absolutely left the conditions tinder-dry, and obviously very explosive," Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant said.

New recruits are training this week at Cal Fire's Auburn facility, and they are learning not to depend too heavily on water.

"We're still going to need to use water, but we may use hand tools, we may use other fire-suppression techniques that don't require as much water," Berlant explained.

These techniques are nothing new.

Veteran firefighters know how valuable bulldozers and hand-lines are for containing a wildfire, but just as the recruits pick up on those skills, they also have to know what it's like to pick up a hose.

For that training, the fledgling firefighters have to turn on the water -- at least for a little while.

"Having [a hose] charged with water is a very different feeling than when it's empty, but we're trying not to let that water escape and let that water run off," Berlant said.

The trainees will be joining firefighters who battled two major blazes last year, when the conditions were very similar to this year.

The American Fire burned 43 square miles near Foresthill in August 2013. The Rim Fire, which started later that month, charred more than 400 square miles – the third largest blaze in California history.

Although crews are fighting a drought, firefighters will throw everything they have at any fire that threatens homes or threatens to grow out of control.

"Water really is our number one tactic to suppress wildfires quickly," Berlant said.


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