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‘Hot Shots’ Deployed to Wildfire Front Lines

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Air Force Base officials deployed the only Defense Department wildland firefighting asset at 2 p.m. June 27 in support of the wildland firefighting efforts in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The 18-member Vandenberg Air Force Base Hot Shot crew, along with two hot shots crew carrier vehicles, one superintendent support vehicle and one all-terrain vehicle, loaded into the belly of a C-17 Globemaster III from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., at approximately 1 p.m. June 27.

"This is national support at its finest," said Mark Farias, the Vandenberg AFB Fire Department chief. "Vandenberg Hot Shots, being the only DoD hot shots, bring a critical skill set to the fight. These guys will be on the front lines of this wildfire using their training regarding wildfires and urban interface to save lives and structures in the state of Colorado."

The hot shots will most likely be assigned to the Waldo Canyon fire. As the fire rages in Colorado Springs, engulfing more than 15,517 acres, many military bases and residential areas are in danger and facing mandatory evacuation.

The hot shots crew has been explicitly trained to save structures, not just to extinguish the flames.

"When a building or community faces a wildfire danger, we use structure triage," said Jesse Hendricks, the Vandenberg Hot Shots superintendent. "First we remove any fuel source, like trees or shrubbery, from around the home using hand tools. Once we've created an area clear of fuels, we actually burn a fire around the structure that will carry the initial fire away from the homes."

Vandenberg's Hot Shots are going into this inferno mentally and physically prepared.

"We all got into the mindset that this is going to be a nasty situation," Hendricks said. "We understand fatigue will be a factor, so we are all hydrating and are trying to get as much sleep as we can before getting to Colorado. When we go into any wildfire we try to relate it to our 'mental slides,' meaning that we recall similar wildfires and pull from those lessons learned so that we will be more effective."

Vandenberg AFB's fire chief said he feels confident that this hot shot crew will prove to be a valuable asset to the containment of the Colorado wildfire.

"Thousands of people and homes are threatened, but the most skilled DoD wildland fire fighters are being deployed," he said. "Our hot shots are difference makers having saved this base numerous times, our surrounding communities and now Colorado Springs."

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