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Firefighters, first responders practice wildfire strategies

Rocky Hyder listens as an evaluator reports on the exercise Rocky Hyder listens as an evaluator reports on the exercise

MILLS RIVER — Firefighters and other emergency personnel from nine county and state agencies gathered at Mills River Volunteer Fire Department last week for a mock exercise on fighting a wildfire.

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Rocky Hyder listens as an evaluator reports on the exercise

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The first responders had to track the fire, calculate how and where they would deploy fire crews and adjust to factors like traffic backups and wind shifts.
"As they work on the response, there'll be another message" on conditions, said Emergency Management Director Rocky Hyder. "It's going to be one problem after another to try to think through a scenario right at the start of the fire season."
Jason Justus, a Mountain Home Fire Department captain and state Forest Service crew leader, monitored the progress of the fire on a laptop. In a real wildfire, he said, firefighters would use topo maps to figure out where to bulldoze firebreaks.
"We notified the Forest Service that it's gone project fire," he said, meaning a big fire requiring backup and the coordination of many agencies. "They'll bring all the reserves from everywhere. If it goes project fire it'll be turned over to the North Carolina Forest Service and the Mills River higher-ups and Forest Service higher-ups will be in charge."
The training exercise was planned to coincide with the start of wildfire season.
Participating were first responders from Mills River, Dana, Edneyville, Mountain Home, Hendersonville, Green River, Valley Hill, Saluda and Etowah-Horse Shoe, Rescue Squad, the Red Cross, the sheriff's department and state Forest Service.