H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Jul 3, 2013 7:04 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Hotshots explain fire shelters

The hotshot firefighters killed in a massive Arizona wildfire tried to protect themselves using special lightweight, fireproof shelters.

The shelters are like a bag that firefighters rap around them.

They are designed for the most desperate of situations, and as every firefighter knows, there's no guarantee.

"The most important thing is, when we get on scene of a fire, is to make sure that we have escape routes and safety zones in place before we engage the fire," said Hotshot Steven Molacek.

However, those routes can quickly go up in smoke if a fire gets out of control.

"It could be a few factors," said Molacek. "It could be fire behavior increasing, wind increased or changed directions on you."

That's when the commanding firefighter gives the signal.

The Los Padres Hotshot showed us how it's done, quickly shedding his 40-pound gear and tossing it aside so it's away from him in case it catches fire.

He deploys the shelter in an open area with the hopes the fire will burn around him and within a matter of seconds he's done.

"We're looking at, by the time the orders put out, he should be able to be in there within 30 seconds," said Molacek.

"That's our last line of defense. That means that something really went bad," said Hotshot Jared Walberg. "If that's the case, you're really in a bad position because your escape and safety have been compromised, so that's really a last ditch effort."

"At that point in time, you're really just hoping that you're going to make it through," said Walberg.

The shelters are made to withstand radiated heat, not direct contact with flames.

All 19 firefighters from Yarnell, Arizona were found inside their shelters.

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