New ‘Pumpkin Tanks’ Helped Crews With Quick Response To Foothills Fire

Jul 25, 2018, 7:53 PM | Updated: 9:18 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – City leaders put in a lot of preparation, planning and training to keep a fast-moving fire from torching homes in a neighborhood above the Utah State Capitol.

Crews from the Salt Lake City Fire Department responded to the area near Columbus Court Tuesday afternoon after the brush caught fire. The fire quickly spread up the hillside and threatened houses.

Recent investments in time and equipment enabled firefighters to attack the fire  quickly with more water. The fire chief pointed out fire danger continues to intensify as long as conditions are hot, dry and windy.

“We are always training for these kinds of risks,” said Chief Karl Lieb. “We know where the high-risk areas are.”

Chief Lieb said when fire races through fine fuels like the grasses right in the middle of that neighborhood, and many other neighborhoods in Utah, firefighters need a good plan of attack and good tools to save lives and property.

Early emergency radio traffic made the fire sound like a sure catastrophe unfolding.

“They were going to be picking which houses they could save because they thought they were going to lose them,” said Division Chief Ryan Mellor.

Several dozen firefighters attacked the blaze within 15 minutes of the call to emergency dispatchers.

“In some cases, (the fire was) just feet from the house, and they were able save them,” said Chief Mellor. “That was just amazing to me.”

Helicopters used brand new 6000-gallon portable reservoirs called “pumpkin tanks” that had only arrived one day earlier – named because they’re big, round and bright orange. They had been approved by the Salt Lake City Council and mayor as part of a proactive fire plan.

Officials said the advantage of the pumpkin tanks is that they can be set up in a parking lot very close to any fire and filled by a fire hydrant. The helicopters dipped 140-gallon buckets in the tanks, flew them a short distance to the fire line and doused the flames.

“They are able to keep continuously going,” said Chief Mellor. “We were filling them up every five minutes or so.”

Firefighters trained with a couple of borrowed pumpkin tanks in the spring, but did not get their own tanks until the day before the fire.

“They were just delivered to us on Monday,” said Chief Mellor. “We actually had to run down and pick them up off the loading dock (at the Utah Department of Public Safety) and truck them down there and set it up.”

Fire managers said the difference the tanks made with Tuesday’s fire showed the justification for the money spent, and a recent $500,000 allocation for upgrading a specialized wildfire truck this year, and purchasing another one for next year.

The fire chief also planned to add portable hose packs that enable firefighters to extend hose line while fighting wildfires in our neighborhoods.

“Make no mistake, the firefighters made all the difference in this incident,” said Chief Lieb.

Fire crews focused on saving homes while the helicopter with the drop bucket contained the brush fire and doused hot spots.

“Our firefighters are good at what they do. They’re fast,” said Chief Lieb. “We can put a lot of people on scene in a very short period of time and that makes all the difference in the world.”

The fire chief also talked about the possibility of setting up more reservoirs in the hillside neighborhoods to have even more water readily available for firefighters. That could be part of a future plan.

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New ‘Pumpkin Tanks’ Helped Crews With Quick Response To Foothills Fire