TV-6 Investigates: Wildland Fire Training - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

TV-6 Investigates: Wildland Fire Training

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Monday's prairie fire in Thomson was the product of a perfect storm.

High winds, low humidity, and dry prairie grass created very dangerous conditions for firefighters.

The firefighters going into harms way don't often have formal wildfire training.

The scene looks like something belonging on the west coast. Six foot tall orange flames, fire crews spraying charred land, a wildfire right here in the QCA.

"It was one of the worst wildland fires we've had in this area in many many years," says US Fish and Wildlife manager Ed Britton.

He says the fire dealt fire crews one of the toughest hands possible. His firefighters helped all they could, but not along the actual fire line.

"Our firefighters are not wildland certified, and so we were there to assist, but we were not actually on the fire itself," says Britton.

Volunteer departments were in charge of putting out the flames. Yet often, those firefighters have only basic training when it comes to wildfires.

"Brush fires are in house trained, there's been a few classes over the years, with some wild fire training, around here things are usually pretty mellow on the grass fires," says Savanna Fire Chief Shawn Picolotti.

He says the local fire departments rely on experience and whatever training they feel is appropriate for responding to grass fires. People driving the trucks get most of the training, so they don't get a truck and its crew caught in flames. It's a very real possibility.

"The wildland fire is a moving environment, it's constantly on the go, they can travel 10 to 15 miles an hour so it's a moving target and it can grow in all directions," says Illinois Forest Protection Manager Tom Wilson.

He says wildfires are not rare in Illinois. The counties surrounding Chicago tallied their wildfires over a five year period. 22,000 were recorded, but there is no requirement that local firefighters meet federal wildland firefighting requirements.

"We've had a few in the past that were big, but (Monday's) was one of the abnormal bigger, more dangerous ones," says Picolotti.

He says most of the department's grass fires are five acres or less. That's relatively standard to handle. Britton says Monday's was anything but.

"They would get one area out, they would move to another area only to find out the wind had changed directions and progressed the fire further than they thought, they thought they had it stopped," says Britton.

He says all six departments did an excellent job stopping the fire. Even without extensive training and all the proper gear.

"Miraculously no one was injured," says Britton.

Illinois offers free wildfire training classes for small fire departments.

It also provides the proper protective gear.

State officials estimate 2,500 firefighters have taken advantage of the free training.

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