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How Do Wildland Firefighters Cope With Triple-Digit Heat?

Courtesy of Chelan County Emergency Management
A portable, temporary air monitor was placed on the roof of the high school in Entiat, Washington and has been collecting samples since Thursday. Note the ground-hugging wildfire smoke in background.

Crews battling wildfires in eastern Washington and southeastern Oregon are dealing with sizzling hot temperatures of a heat wave.

Firefighters are gaining ground this weekend despite the wilting heat. Four of the five largest fires are nearly 100 percent contained.

You can't wear shorts and a T-shirt to a firefight, so how do you stay cool and functional when the thermometer is pushing triple digits? "The main thing is to stay hydrated" and pace yourself, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Joe Anderson.

"They [the firefighters] don't want to get exhausted. So they work at a pace that is equal to the temperature and the amount of energy they're putting out. And then they monitor themselves all the time,” Anderson said.

Anderson says that strategy is working in Entiat, Washington, the scene of the largest wildfire currently burning in the Northwest. The blaze in central Washington state has already chewed through 34 square miles of grass and scattered timber.

But Anderson says fire crews have successfully defended nearby homes and are increasing containment. Investigators have not figured out the cause of the fire.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
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