A crew of Central Valley ‘Hot Shots’, the highly trained California firefighters who take on the most dangerous tasks, are in Puerto Rico to help that island nation recover from Hurricane Maria.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much in common between a California wildfire and the massive hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico. Fire destroys a vast swash of land in flame and hurricanes do their damage with wind and water. But look a little closer at the aftermath and the hot shots say the two disasters have more in common than one might suspect.
Valley Public Radio’s Jeffrey Hess spoke with the ‘hot shot’ Kurt Wadenius about what they expect to encounter and how they think they can help.
What are the similarities between a fire and a hurricane?
“From what I understand, we are going to clear vegetation out of roads. Which is a fire situation is kind of our expertise. Which is clearing the vegetation and fuels. So, I believe we are going to clear the vegetation out of the road in a devastated area,”
“We are going to use our chainsaws. We are highly skilled in chainsaw operation and I believe that is the reason we have been picked to do this. Just cutting. I don’t know if we are going to use equipment to use the logs or just manpower,”
What have you learned as a Hot Shot that helped prepare for this trip?
“We are a highly physically fit group of people who can work long, strenuous 12 or 16 hours days. I think we will be able to clear the roads in a timely manner with people who have the endurance to work a long period of time,”
How significant is road blockage on a fire?
“Usually on a fire, we get trees that burn and fall across the road. Occasionally we have to clear that. But a lot of time you get into the central and southern California brush component. We will have a fire that is burning six to ten feet from the super thick brush. And we have to basically make a road along the edge of the fire to be able to put in a hand line and stop the fire. So I think it is going to be pretty similar to that,”
Clearing the debris is really that complicated?
“We have Jackstraw, which is a lot of logs that are all bound together from falling down. You have to understand how to make relief cuts and manage the vines and the wood without getting anyone injured. It is not going to fall in an evenly orderly manner. It is going to be all a mess,”
Does your experience in California Mountains translate to Puerto Rico?
“We are just to working in steep terrain. That is where Hot Shots get sent is the worst areas of the fire and the steepest terrain. I think that will be a big help if we have to deal with steep terrain, jungle, or heavily vegetated areas,”
What is the number one tip you have learned?
“Pay attention to where the tip is on the chainsaw at all times,”
The crew could be there as long as a month.
They are joining two other crews based out of Southern California.