Walla Walla-area firefighters brush up on wildfires

The training exercise involved 87 volunteers and involved 37 vehicles.

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Rocky Eastman, chief of Walla Walla County Fire District 4, briefs the teams of firefighters from throughout the county who turned out Monday to practice skills needed to fight wildland and field blazes. (June 28, 2010)

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Fire crews practice negotiating steep, rolling terrain in a 120-acre tract of farmland Monday evening. The training exercise helped hone the skills Walla Walla County rural firefighters need to fight field and wildland fires. (June 28, 2010)

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Holly Jones, a volunteer with Walla Walla County Fire District 4, folds a hose into a storage box Monday during a wildfire training exercise north of Walla Walla. About 100 county firefighters turned out in the heat and dust to hone skills they will need to fight blazes now and later this summer. (Andy Porter photo) (June 28, 2010)

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Eastman talks with Walla Walla Fire District 7 Chief Tim Mayberry during the start of the exercise.

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Using handheld and truck-mounted nozzles, firefighters practice hosing down a field fire while negotiating tricky terrain during a training exercise Monday north of Walla Walla. About 100 firefighters from throughout Walla Walla County took part.

WALLA WALLA -- Firefighters took to the hills Monday to prepare for this year's fire season.

On a tract of rolling farmland north of Walla Walla, 87 volunteers spent hours in the dust and heat honing skills they will need to attack wildfires now and later this summer when fire season begins in earnest.

"The whole objective is to get everybody prepared for the wildland fire season," said Rocky Eastman, Walla Walla County Fire District 4 chief. "The whole point behind this is cooperation and working together."

During the exercise, volunteers maneuvered up, down and across steep hillsides, practiced directing water from handheld and truck-mounted nozzles onto target areas and worked at coordinating communications and improving teamwork.

The effort involved 37 vehicles ranging in size from 3,500-gallon water tenders to an ATV fitted with a 100-gallon water tank. Volunteers practiced in daylight and into the night, winding up about 9:30 p.m.

This was the third year the event has been organized by county fire chiefs and training officers, Eastman said. The farmland used for the exercise is owned by Dale Nelson, who said he was happy to give volunteers a chance to train.

"I drove a fire truck back in '71 or '73 with an old Army surplus truck," he said as he visited with firefighters before they headed out Monday. In those days, he said, "you never got a chance to train in the field. So if they want a field to train in, they can have it. This gives them a whole heck of a lot of training in the hills and dirt."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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