Arizona fire deaths: Local firefighters discuss what went wrong - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Arizona fire deaths: Local firefighters discuss what went wrong

Slidell, La. -

Local firefighters are paying tribute to the 19 Arizona wildfire victims. They say western wildfires often times are more intense and tougher to predict than those here, and they say a full investigation will likely lead to changes that may hopefully save lives in the future.

The flag flies at half-staff at the Slidell Fire Training Academy in honor of the 19 firefighters who fell victim in a massive wildfire, 85 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.

"This is horrible. This is supposed to be one of the best teams in the world," said Scott Brewer with St. Tammany Fire District 9.

State foresters are checking their gear, as they wonder what went wrong.

The Arizona firefighters were trying to get into their fire retardant tents when they were overcome by the massive, swift-moving fire.

"It's something you don't want to do, it's a last-ditch effort to deploy a fire shelter," said Kirk Casanova with the La. Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The tents are only effective if you have time to clear away all woody debris, which can fuel the fire.

Louisiana forest fire fighters carry the tents too, in addition to other fire-retardant gear. They've never had to use them here in Louisiana. And though we have large fires here in Louisiana, western fires are often more intense.

Brewer said, "Fires in Arizona are typically much larger, with thousands and thousands of acres of uninhabited land."

A typical Louisiana pine forest, for instance, rarely burns with the intensity of what's seen out west.  Here, woody debris tends to rot or wash away due to wet weather. Out west, the material builds up.

"As trees shed their leaves and limbs, they create a layer on the ground called loam - that's additional fuel," Brewer said.

The noise made by such super fires could have also contributed to a deadly situation, much like the one Kirk Casanova experienced when fighting a wildfire at Yellowstone Park over 20 years ago. Casanova said, "The roar was so loud, you couldn't communicate with your comrades."

No one really knows yet what led to the 19 Arizona deaths. "This will be investigated," said Casanova, "and some things will be done differently."

And as the flames continue to flare, Louisiana firefighters remain on standby to head to Arizona to assist, if necessary.

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