FORT DRUM As post firefighters trained Thursday afternoon with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fight wildfires, a call came through the radio.
They were needed for the real thing.
Taking reporters to the closest roadway at a safe distance from the fire, Fort Drum Fire Department Assistant Chief Robert A. Denney viewed the billowing smoke over the nearby treeline north of Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
With little information about the cause or scope of the fire, he speculated that having a fire when conditions were slightly wet may help limit damage to weaker tree parts that could fuel larger fires. Mr. Denney soon hopped into his vehicle to join the rest of the crews approaching the rising smoke from a different angle.
This is what we train for, he said.
The earlier training revealed some of the techniques firefighters may use out at the scene.
About 20 post firefighters joined with DEC teams to create hand lines with shovels, rakes and chain saws. The work slashing trees and carving into the ground left bare strips of land about 3 to 4 feet wide, limiting the fires range.
The fire dies right there, Mr. Denney said.
The DEC crews have trained with the posts crews for about a week. With the posts department doing its own recurring wildfire training, this week is just the third time in the last seven years that the DEC has come to the post to aid the training, said John M. Scanlon, a state DEC forest ranger.
Perhaps foreshadowing the fire call to come, Mr. Scanlon said that drying conditions like the ones on post Thursday could create an increased risk. In such a situation, having a quick response is very important.
We can experience very rapid rates of spread in a fire, Mr. Scanlon said
He said pairing his crews with the posts, which have more experience with structural fires, can benefit both parties.
The interagency cooperation from Fort Drum and our other brothers in fire is critical in carrying out that mission, both statewide and nationally, he said.
The threat of major forest fires is not expected to go away anytime soon, especially with climate change in the equation.
Mr. Scanlon said the spread of insects like the mountain pine beetle has killed thousands of trees and increased the risk of large fires nationwide. In the past, he said, state DEC firefighting crews have been called on to help fight large forest fires out West.
On Thursday, the danger was a little closer to home.
Video of the training and the fire can be seen at http://wdt.me/FD-wildfire-training.