Firefighting on the Front Lines

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 12:07am

RUIDOSO - Firefighters have made significant progress containing the Little Bear Wildfire north of Ruidoso.

Officials confirm the fire is now 30 percent contained.
Overnight, the fire grew to about 35,000 acres.
The recent change in the direction of winds has helped firefighters keep the fire from spreading.

"We have reduced wind speeds and reduced fire behavior, which has enabled firefighters in holding lines that have been in place the last couple of days," said Brad Pitassi, a spokesperson for the Southwest Coordination Center, which helps different agencies mobilize to fight fires like Little Bear.

The fire is still strongest in the area near Ski Apache, and they will devote more resources to that area Tuesday, said Pitassi.

Leaders, including Gov. Susana Martinez, hosted two meetings Monday evening to inform residents on the latest efforts to fight the fire.

About 300 people were at Ruidoso High School, where evacuees are camping out.
Those evacuated asked about the conditions of their homes.

Officials at the meeting could not give residents exact information on their homes because a damage assessment team hasn't finished touring the area.

They expect that work to be completed in the next 3 to 5 days.

Officials have now set up a phone line where they can call in and get the latest info officials are releasing.

The number is 575-258-6900.

Residents are allowed back into homes south of Airport Rd. and east of Highway 48, while north and west of Airport Rd. remains closed off.

"We're thrilled to be so well informed and feel safer," said resident Neda Sundvahl, who came to the meeting looking for information.

"It's well organized, well thought out. We appreciate the Governor coming, and we're so glad that our mountains will soon be protected," she said.

That protection and progress is being credited to the nearly 1,000 people working in all areas to containing the blaze.

Most of the crew are firefighters out on the front lines working up to 16-hour shifts.

Approximately 450 firefighters are calling Sierra Vista Elementary School home when they're not out on the line battling flames.

Officials say they have everything they need, from a place to sleep, to hearty meals.

Throughout the day, a catering truck serves about 500 firefighters.
After 16-hour shifts that can quickly turn into 24-hour-long days, firefighters need about 10,000 calories a day to keep their energy up.

With the firefighters flying in from all over the country, some as far as New York, so comes the food.

"Right now we have a function that is specifically for food. We'll have food caterers come from all across the country to feed 500 to 1,000 meals a day," said Pitassi.

A lot of the time, it's the first meal firefighters have had after working all day.
But some of those crews are prepared to stay out on the line for several days.

"We can have crews, like hotshot, that work in 20-man crews, and they can be independent and sleep on the line for up to 14 days straight," said Pitassi.

When they're not on the line, firefighters have tents where they can sleep for a few hours before heading back out.

Baseball fields turn into hotels.
In the morning they will wake up and continue to do their work.

Gov. Susana Martinez toured the area again Monday evening and couldn't thank the brave men and women enough for everything they do.

"They look exhausted. Sometimes their hair is burned, to see them wash their hands... just the sut falling off of their skin and then they get in, and they eat, and they go back out on the line to fight the fire. This is a job they love and my hat's off to them," she said.

Officials are saying this wildfire is the number one priority in the country.
More firefighters continue to come in daily, and Gov. Martinez will sign a state of emergency bill freeing up more resources in the next few days.

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