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Firefighters train for battling western blazes


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SALT LAKE CITY — As wildfires rage across the western United States, claiming lives and wiping out homes, firefighters train to face the challenges.

The High Park Fire in Colorado has destroyed nearly 200 homes and left one person dead. In New Mexico, crews fought back the largest fire in that state's history.

That's the kind of season that's smoldering in 2012.

In Orem, wildland firefighters took a mandatory one-day refresher course Wednesday. Among many training techniques, they practiced deploying their personal fire shelters that they all carry on the fire line.

"This is a good thing, this is good training. This will save your life," firefighter William Villarreal said.

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If they cannot avoid a fast-moving fire, this shelter could be the best shot at survival.

"Normally we'd seal up, so basically all you see (from inside) is the ground and the fire shelter," Villarreal explained.

Meanwhile, firefighting students in Salt Lake took the mandatory fitness test.

"They work arduous, long hours in really steep and rough terrain," said Gayle Sorenson, assistant fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

Sorenson's group was finishing the week-long course to become firefighters and earn the "red card" that allows them on the fire line. They have to walk a 3-mile course carrying a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes.

"Being physically fit really helps their body to be able to acclimate to those rugged conditions," Sorenson said.

Wednesday night Utah's wilfire agencies issued a notice that it has brought in a national Wildland Fire Prevention and Education Team to help them prevent human-caused wildfires.

"By bringing a National Wildland Fire Prevention and Education Team to Utah, we will be able to unify these efforts across the state," said Loren Walker, U.S. Forest Service communities assistance and prevention coordinator.

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Jed Boal

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