The death of 19 firefighters in an Arizona fire is a reminder of the unpredictability of wildfires.
Minnesota wildfire expert Peter Lescheck said he was shocked by the news of the 19 firefighters who died this weekend while battling a massive blaze in Arizona. It's particularly unusual for so many firefighters to die at the same time, he said. Lescheck of Side Lake is a wildfire fighter, firefighter trainer and author of a book on the great Peshtigo fire of 1871 which killed more than a thousand people.
Tom Weber spoke with Lescheck about how firefighters train to deal with changing conditions.
Firefighters these days are better trained and equipped than ever before, Lescheck said. They also train to establish an exit plan before going up against a fire.
"Whenever you engage a fire, wherever it may be, you establish a safety zone -- someplace that you can go if things go bad," Lescheck said. "The escape route is the way that you will get to that safety zone."
It may turn out that the rapidly-moving fire blocked the Arizona firefighters' escape route, he said. The incident is still under investigation.
"We try to emphasize that you take care of your teammates by taking care of yourself and it's sort of a mutual type of thing," he said. "But when push comes to shove, in the face of tremendous heat, people are going to do what they have to do to survive. That is the simple fact of it."
More than 1,000 people attended a memorial service held Tuesday in Arizona for the firefighters.