Toledo takes on wildfires in training exercise

Stephen Floyd

Zachery Summers (foreground, left) douses a burning slash pile as part of wildfire training exercises by Lewis County Fire District 2 on Saturday. Crews spent time digging a trench around the anticipated burn area, setting controlled fires and pitching emergency shelters.

As wildfire season begins, members of Lewis County Fire District 2, based in Toledo, undertook a life wildland fire training event Saturday to bolster their already-strong response capabilities.

Led by Captain Tracy Summers, who has been called upon as a strike team leader in events such as the recent Cottonwood 2 Fire June 17 in Yakima County, firefighters were shown how to contain and combat a wildfire, which ended up involving quite a bit more fire and elbow grease than water and fire suppressant.

Training began with a line of firefighters scraping and slashing away at grass and underbrush in order to form a fuel-free barrier between the fire (which had yet to be set) and unaffected areas of the field where they were practicing, the use of which had been donated by the landowners.

One firefighter remarked the challenging part of working on a trench was getting the pace and motion just right, stating it was more of a scraping action rather than digging. Summers noted this kind of work can be physically intensive, especially when wearing response gear, adding teams in the field are typically much larger and able to widen large trenches with relative speed.

“Even though we’re on the trucks and spraying a lot of water, we’re still using hand tools,” he said.

Once the barrier was in place, firefighters were instructed in how to use a drip torch to set controlled fires and take away fuel before the larger blaze could reach it. Consisting of a canister with a metal tube on top and cotton wick at the end, drip torches use a mixture of gasoline and diesel to distribute flaming accelerant into places where the fire needs to go.

After firefighters were able to see the effects of drip torches, as well as flares, they were shown how to deploy and safely use an emergency shelter, in the event they are trapped by a fire without an escape route. Looking like a small aluminum pup tent, Summers explained the reflective exterior is meant to repel 90 percent of radiant heat from nearby flames, but that direct heat in excess of 600 degrees would cause the shelter to burn apart, so the location for deployment would have to be selected away from any large fuel sources.

Though large wildfires west of the cascades are rare, they do occur, and agencies such as District 2 remain prepared for local response, as well as deployments around the region. Those who also have areas of land in need of clearing may contact the fire district at (360) 864-2366 to donate property for training.

Crews use various tools, both specialized and generic, to cut away brush and grass to form a barrier across which the fire will not be able to spread.

Captain Tracy Summers (foreground, left) shows firefighters how to deploy an emergency shelter, which can reflect 90 percent of radiant heat away from the occupant.

Experienced wildland firefighter Shawnee Bunyard (left) shows trainee Isalene Farrell (right) how to use a combination tool, which Bunyard said is her preferred implement.