Fire shelters considered 'last resort' for firefighters

Fire shelters considered 'last resort' for firefighters

NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - When 19 elite firefighters were killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on Sunday, they had with them safety devices that are meant to be a last ditch effort to survive. Officials say the firefighters deployed tent-like shelters to try to protect themselves from the heat and flames.

NewsChannel 12 spoke with North Carolina Forest Service officials to learn more about how the safety device works.

"Fire shelters are used to reflect radiant heat from the flame in front as it approaches," said North Carolina Forest Service District Ranger Donald Meadows.

Fire shelters are made of fiberglass and aluminum that traps in breathable air.  Meadows said all firefighters are required to carry a fire shelter on their back, whether it's a prescribed burn or a wildfire.

"The fire shelters that we use are a last ditch effort in saving a firefighter's life," explains Meadows.

He said the shelters are not made to withstand extreme temperatures. According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, the material on the shelter will begin to melt at about 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meadows said the training his men go through is the same type of training firefighters do out west.

"If our guys go out there or their guys come here, we are all working off the same sheet of music," he said.

According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a fire shelter is meant to reflect 95-percent of the radiant heat of the flames as they pass over firefighters. Fire shelters are not designed to withstand stationary flames.

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