Linden man fights Midwest wildfires

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 27, 2006

When a house fire or wildfire breaks out, volunteer firefighters anywhere in radio contact can usually be counted on to show up, gear at the ready, to help save lives and property.

But as wildfires ravage the drought-stricken states of Oklahoma and Texas, a number of Alabama firefighters have heeded the call, driving thousands of miles with equipment in tow to lend a hand three states away.

Billy Carlisle, a Linden native who said he “grew up around volunteer fire departments all my life” was among them.

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As a forester with the Alabama Forestry Commission’s Marengo County office in Linden, he joined a number of state firefighters who traveled to Oklahoma to fight the blazes last month.

Carlisle recently returned to Linden, though as many as 10 firefighters from Alabama are still lending a hand out west.

“It’s very dry out there, of course,” Carlisle said of the differences between Alabama and Oklahoma wildfires. “But it was just another day at work otherwise.”

Carlisle said the landscape – flat and nearly treeless – forces firefighters to be even more cautious and observant than usual.

“With the strong winds, you have to plan every move according to the weather,” he said.

The dry weather, which has endured since summer, kept the creeks and riverbeds – a natural tool used as firebreaks – nearly dry, and completely useless to their efforts.

“Several times, the wind would shift and we had to be on our toes,” Carlisle said. “Otherwise we might end up on the wrong side of the fire when it moved.”

While this was Carlisle’s first experience fighting fires in Oklahoma, it wasn’t his first time heeding the call of a fire.

As part of a compact among firemen and forestry workers across the southeast, Carlisle has battled wildfires in Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Montana.

He’s been with the forestry commission for five years, and been a full member of the Linden Volunteer Fire Department for nine.