The firefighter from the Zuni Initial Attack team in New Mexico said he’s used to battling fires that burn thousands of acres and leave the earth black. It seemed unlikely he’d be encountering anything like that in the Southeast.
“I thought, ‘Alabama? What’s going on out there?’” Sheche said. “Is it a ‘real fire?’”
The wildfire that’s been burning since Sunday in the Dugger Mountain Wilderness area of the Talladega National Forest is a real fire, albeit a mild one, Sheche said. As of Friday, the fire had burned 429 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and was expected to burn 566 acres in total before it’s finally extinguished.
It’s been a big enough fire in Alabama to bring in help from places like Louisiana and New Mexico, said Bobby Kitchens, a public information officer with the Forest Service. More than 50 firefighters, including Sheche and his crew of 20, were out Friday trying to contain the flames. Kitchens said the firefighters had established control lines around the wilderness area and away from private land, and said as of Friday morning, the fire had been 30 percent contained.
Hank McKinley, the task force leader for the crew in Dugger Mountain Wilderness, said the toughest part about putting out the fire was just getting to the flames. Up the Pinhoti Trail, which is closed to the public because of the fire, it was an hour walk to get to the ridges of Red Mountain to extinguish the biggest flames in the area, he said.
“I was tired before I got there,” McKinley said about the steep climb.
Fighting fires in a wilderness area, where there are no roads and few ways for vehicles to get in and out, presents a unique challenge, said Matthew Cook, the safety officer with the crew at Dugger.
“If someone gets hurt up there, we have to get them back here before we can even get them in a vehicle or helicopter,” Cook said Friday from the Burns trailhead on Rabbittown Road.
Cook said that as of Friday afternoon, there were no injuries during the fire.
Kitchens said besides the firefighters, three fire engines, two bulldozers and a helicopter had been deployed in the area.
“The bulldozers are to protect private land near the area,” Kitchens said. “We probably don’t need them, but it’s too late to start digging a containment line when the fire is heading towards a house.”
While weather didn’t help the firefighters out most of the week, with a red-flag warning issued for the area on Thursday, rain on Friday afternoon gave some break for the crew, Kitchens said.
The rain also helped clear the air around Rabbittown from all the smoke, but McKinley said it won’t last. Smoke and ash from Red Mountain will continue to make their way south to Rabbittown Road for the next few days. Kitchens said the U.S. Forest Service is still cautioning drivers in the area to be careful due to firefighter traffic and poor visibility, especially at night.
McKinley said he did not know when he expected the fire to be completely contained, but said the forecast Sunday for significant rain should put out most of the flames.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.