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Rochester firefighter shares personal experience fighting wildfires

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — It’s been a week since harsh wildfires have raged across states in the western part of the United States.

Firefighters working tirelessly to put out dangerous flames.

Caleb Feine, a Rochester firefighter, helped battle wildfires out west nearly 15 years ago. H e talked about the Willow Creek Wildfire in Utah and the Jacob Lake wildfire in Arizona .

Jacob Lake Wildfire in Arizona

“Things went from pretty tame to really really scary very quickly,” he said about the Arizona fire. “And the fire jumped us and the wind switched and it was extremely frightening. Probably the first time I came to being very very frightened. Luckily, we all made it out of there safe and sound, and we finished the shift for the night.”

Feine said he battled those unpredictable flames during his in-school training to be a firefighter.

“[We battled] 30 different fires in six or seven different states, in over 110 day span,” he said

That situation is what hundreds of other firefighters are currently dealing with.

On Tuesday, 29 Minnesota firefighters from seven fire departments left to help in Salem, Oregon.

“There’s a lot more unknown. You’re talking weather, you’re talking the topography. You’re talking super-low relative humidity, and fuels that just light so quickly that it’s just so dangerous, that it’s so spontaneous what happens. So, it makes it very dangerous for a firefighter,” Feine said.

He explained that water hoses are not typically used to battle wildfires.

“Wildland fires, you don’t use water. Water is scarce out there; that’s why everything is so dry,” he said.

Firefighters use specialized tools like a Pulaski Ax; used to cut along the fire line to contain it.

“You’re just trying to get any organic material broken up from that line, so the fire can’t move across that line,” he said.

His crew camped overnight in the wild and worked 16 hour shifts with an eight hour rest.

Feine said a rattlesnake almost bit him, and the crew got visits from wild horses.

Feine in the Book Cliff Mountains for the Willow Creek Fire in 2006.

Overall, even in the life-threatening situation, he does not regret the fulfilling moment in his career.

“It’s a very dangerous situation, I know how quickly it can go from normal to the worst day of your life, especially in a wildfire incident. So proud of the people going out there that stepped up to go.”

Fiene says it’s unlikely wildfires as big as the ones on the West Coast would happen in Southeast Minnesota. That’s because we generally have more moisture in our air.

KaMaria Braye

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