Tallmadge -- Tallmadge Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Passarelli has recently returned from fighting fires out West.
Passarelli is part of the Ohio Inner Agency Wildland Firefighters, an emergency team trained to put out fires in the western area of the country.
"Each year we have to take a refresher course and a test in order to make us available to go back out west," said Passarelli. "During wildfire season, they run out of teams out west so they start recruiting us from the East."
Passarelli has been involved in the program since 2001 and has been on 13 trips out West.
"I first became interested in fighting wildfires when I was at a National Fire Academy class," said Passarelli. "A fire chief told me about fighting fires out west and I found it very interesting. He told me what I needed to do to join. I took a class and have been going out west ever since."
Passarelli went on two trips to fight fires this summer, one to southern Oregon and one to northern California.
Passarelli was assigned to fight the "Labradore Fire" in Oregon from July 25 through Aug. 13. The fire was named after the nearby "Labradore Creek." According to Passarelli, this wildfire was started by a lightning strike and devastated 2,000 acres.
"It was just wilderness," said Passarelli. The fire was in the Fiskiyou National Forest and the closest city, which according to Passarelli, was very far away, was Cave Junction.
After his trip to Oregon, Passarelli was able to return home for almost two weeks before being deployed on his second trip.
While in California, Passarelli fought the "Corral Complex" fire from Aug. 27 through Sept. 10. It was three lightning strike fires that all burned together to make one huge fire.
This fire was much larger than the previous one and burned up 20,000 acres. The nearest town was Willow Creek.
Firefighters must take great precaution when battling these fires, Passarelli explained, noting to go directly to the fire would be life threatening. According to Passarelli, one strategy for putting out the fire is to clear a line in the dirt and wait for the fire to get there. They remove brush and anything else in the way so a red line of dirt is clearly seen. A 6,000 gallon water tank lies in wait to put out the fire. When the fire reaches the line, the men pump water from the tank through lines of hoses in an effort to extinguish the fire.
Passarelli said there are a lot of exciting aspects to fighting wildfires.
"I have been flown on helicopters and dropped off at my zone to fight fires," said Passarelli. "I have had to canoe over to my zone to reach island fires between Minnesota and Canada."
While in California this summer, the firefighters had to worry about holes in the ground that went down to deep mines that had been abandoned for close to 100 years.
"The best part is being able to fight fires with my son," said Passarelli.
David Passarelli, 27, is also a member of the Ohio Inner Agency Wildland Firefighters. This is the fourth trip Passarelli and his son have been able to take together.
There have been several fires out west this summer which in total have ravaged more than 47,000 acres of forest, said Passarelli, adding, "There are currently thousands of firefighters working to put the fires out."
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