How wildfire shelters work - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

How wildfire shelters work

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(Source: CBS 5 News) (Source: CBS 5 News)
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APACHE JUNCTION, AZ (CBS5) -

When firefighters suit up to take on wildfires around the nation, there is one item they don't leave behind: It's called a fire shelter. Although it's rarely used, these safety devices are made to save lives.

"We have them as a last resort," Apache Junction Firefighter Eric Ellsworth said.

A fire shelter is designed to be a lightweight shield against radiant heat but they can only be used once. In Yarnell, the 19 firefighters who lost their lives were all found with their fire shelters deployed but the precautionary device did not save their lives.

"A lot of questions right now," Ellsworth said. "We know these are highly trained individuals, it's just a tragedy for all of us."

Firefighters train with these fire shelters every year but in a real scenario, they usually have less than 15 seconds to get under the shelter's protective aluminum shield. According to Anchor Manufacturing, one of the companies that produce these fire shelters, the shelters can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees before the material begins breaking down. However, the aluminum shells were not made to withstand direct flames for much longer than a few seconds to a few minutes.

"By no means is it comfortable [inside a fire shelter]," Ellsworth said.

About 10,000 fire shelters are produced by two major companies every year and the designs are highly regulated by the United States Forest Service, which will play a major role in the investigation as to what went wrong in Yarnell.

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