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Taking a closer look at wildland fire shelters

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EUREKA- Forest officials say the fire shelter a Plumas National Forest Firefighter used on Monday likely prevented more serious injuries.  They say he likely deployed it because he was disoriented and lost track of where his escape route was.

"The shelter was certainly a component to providing some survivable space in an environment that was smoky and hot,”said Forest Fire Chief Mike Minton, the Interagency Fire Chief for Six Rivers National Forest.

All federal firefighters have been required to have a wildland fire shelters on them since the 1980s.  The multi-layered fiberglass laminate interior provides some insulation and its reflective outer shell keeps most of the heat out during fire situations.

"It's not a smoke free environment by any means but it's certainly a reduced smoke environment, and then the firefighters are trained to keep their airway, their mouth and nose low to the ground, essentially right near the dirt.  The lowest elevation within the fire shelter is going to be the most breathable air,"

"But fire officials say the shelters are a last resort and that they're rarely used," Forest Fire Chief Minton said.

"Escape routes and safety zones are standard procedure things that we train firefighters in.  It's always that preferred alternative is that we don't end up in compromising positions," said Forest Fire Chief Minton.

The shelters take less than a minute to deploy, which forest officials say can be crucial for survival.

"When you're working in an environment as dynamic as wildland fire, where something as benign as a slight gust of wind can change your whole scenario in a rapid manner,” Forest Fire Chief Minton said.

Even with advancements over the years, forest officials say they are not 100 percent reliable in fire situations.

"We do have fatalities associated with people who tried to survive in a fire shelter but they are overcome ordinarily by smoke inhalation and sometimes by sheer volume of heat," said Forest Fire Chief Minton.