CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State forester Chris White trains a crew of "hotshots" how to use foil-lined emergency shelters before they head out West to battle blazes each year.
"It's something you hope you never have to break out," White said.
His crew from West Virginia was devastated to read about 19 firefighters -- known as "hotshots" -- who died while battling a lightning-sparked fire in Arizona on Sunday.
A sudden windstorm spread that fire to about 13 square miles, authorities said, trapping the firefighters outside the town of Yarnell, northwest of Phoenix. All 19 of the deceased firefighters, from a unit based in the small town of Prescott, had deployed their emergency shelters.
White said he's anxious to read reports about what went wrong as a way to prevent future tragedies and better train firefighters in West Virginia. Last year, he led a crew of 20 state firefighters to battle a forest blaze near Payson, Ariz., north of Phoenix. That fire wasn't anything compared to the one currently raging, he said, but he's seen some western fires explode in a matter of hours.
"When I'm in classes I harp on these guys to pay attention, that this could happen at any time," he said. "And when it does happen, it's just a sad situation."
A crew from West Virginia would most likely be called to help battle forest fires out West later this summer. They would undergo rigorous physical testing and refreshment training beforehand, White said. Part of that training includes using the emergency shelters during entrapment situations.
"It has saved a lot of lives but it's not something you want to rely on," he said. "It's not a guarantee."