Volunteer firefighters share perspective on fighting wildfires during Ala. drought

Updated: Sep. 26, 2019 at 6:36 PM CDT
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BULLOCK COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - Greenwood-Fitzpatrick Volunteer Fire Chief Tim Tompkins remembers it well.

“It got up in the top of the pine trees and burn across some of the firefighters and I was one of them," said Tompkins.

The life of a volunteer firefighter these days is fraught with danger. It’s people like Tompkins and Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Gholston you’ll find battling those roadside fires and in some cases deep in the woods.

“You know a lot times you go without sleep for a good while," said Gholston.

One day after the Alabama Forestry Commission issued a statewide “fire alert,” volunteer firefighters are more mindful than ever their morning or night could change on a dime.

“I worry about people getting hurt and not being able to put the fire out," said Tompkins.

And he’s not alone. Mark Richardson often finds himself with his 25,000 pound bulldozer fighting those fires alongside with them. Richardson does his work in the trenches creating fire breaks and hangs on.

“That’s when your adrenaline really starts pumping. Your main focus is protecting whatever structure is nearby," said Richardson, a forestry specialist for the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Mark Richardson says he’s battled around 200 wildfires in his career. The largest was a 500 acre fire in Walker County in the fall of 2016.

That was the last big fire season in Alabama. This fall is beginning to feel like a repeat.

“That’s all we can do is take it another day," said Richardson.

Today Richardson and the Greenwood-Fitzpatrick Volunteer Fire Department were quiet but if history is any guide probably not for long.

Tompkins says well over half of his annual calls are wildfire related.

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