On June 21st, 2016 we learned about

How firefighters battle blazes with bulldozers

Right now, 42,641 acres of land are on fire in the United States alone. Firefighters are working from Colorado to Alaska to try to stop these blazes from harming human lives and infrastructure. With large wildfires, getting every last spark extinguished isn’t the goal, which is why reporting focuses on the idea of “containment.” This is measured by the percent of a fire’s perimeter that is theoretically being stopped by a firebreak or firelane. Firebreaks can take many forms, but are basically gaps in vegetation so that the oncoming fire will run out of fuel and stop spreading. While you can find natural firebreaks, most of the time they’re created on the fly by specialized crews driving fire dozers.

Containing fires with construction equipment

A fire dozer is basically a bulldozer being used to prevent the spread of a fire. Historically, anyone capable of getting plants out of the way of a forest fire could assist with this job, but once a fire has started, it’s generally much safer to leave it to these highly trained professionals. A modern fire dozer generally includes brush guards (or sweeps) over the cab to protect against falling timber, and also needs some way to be transported to and from the edge of the fire, like a dedicated flatbed truck. Newer machines also include air conditioning for the operator, as well as lighting to allow them to work at night when conditions are slightly cooler.

More than the machinery

Even with a well equipped machine, creating a firebreak isn’t easy work. Operators need special training, and in some cases may be part of dedicated heavy equipment teams. The difficulty stems from the terrain fire dozer operators need to work in, which is often steep, rocky and smoky. Firebreaks are sometimes built to compliment structures like preexisting roads that can help contain a fire, but the dozer operators still find themselves trying to carve out land extremely close to the fire itself. Unfortunately, this combination of hazards can be fatal, even an 18 ton machine being susceptible to rolling over amid the burning trees.

The work of a fire dozer is critical though, since prevention, even at the last minute, is one of the best tools we have to try to control wildfires. When things aren’t so intense, however, it’s a good idea to do some less dramatic fire prevention around your property, hopefully saving a fire dozer the trouble later on.

Source: Fire Fighting Bulldozer Operators, Heavy Equipment School

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