SC Forestry Division firefighters face same dangers as those in - - Columbia, South Carolina |

SC Forestry Division firefighters face same dangers as those in the West

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A SC Forestry Division firefighter demonstrates a life-saving fire tent. A SC Forestry Division firefighter demonstrates a life-saving fire tent.

As the wildfire that killed 19 firefighters in Arizona continues to burn, South Carolina Forestry Division crews are reflecting on the lives lost and the dangers of the job.

Statistics show more wildfires happen east of the Mississippi annually. Those fires present the same type of dangers as the larger fires in the West, but they don't get as much attention because they tend to burn fewer acres.

Seemingly flimsy fire shelters are one of the tools firefighters in South Carolina use to protect themselves.

The small fire tents can withstand temperatures up to several hundred degrees, ultimately protecting a firefighters life.

"It's got silicone underneath and it reflects about 90 to 95 percent of the radiant heat away from you so it is warm in there but it is several hundred degrees hotter on the outside," says SC Forestry Commission Forester Brad Bramlett.

Firefighters say crawling in one of the shelters is a last resort.

"They do have a little bit of a flap on the bottom that you stick your hands in there and there to hold because when you deploy these you could have 40 to 60 mile per hour winds so if you don't this thing is going to blow off of you," said Bramlett.

The last time they were used in South Carolina was four years ago during the Highway 31 fire in the Pee Dee.

"They were diving bulldozers and got stuck in the mud and couldn't go anywhere else," said  SC Forestry Commission FP Chief Darryl Jones. "The wind shifted very quickly, they didn't have anywhere to go they couldn't reach a safety zone that was cut off so their only alternative was to use their fire shelter and because they had that piece of equipment they survived.

Firefighters train yearly for these situations. "We do it enough to where it's second nature to get in these [shelters]," said Bramlett.

South Carolina recently made another investment in protection, buying 10 enclosed cab bulldozers.

"It's a glass cab, it's climate controlled and the air's filtered and that one avoids exposure, direct exposures to the heat and smoke to our fire fighters," said Jones.

There's a brotherhood among these firefighters nationwide.

"Every time you lose someone it does hurt, we try to learn from these things and go on but you still have to think about what their families are going through or what their last moments might have been," said Jones.

In addition to the South Carolina Forestry Division firefighters currently helping with fires in Colorado, firefighters say they have sent a list of individuals prepared to help with fires in Arizona. They're waiting for the call for assistance.

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