Milford resident John Cirafici joined 20 Delaware Forest Service volunteers this month to battle the ongoing wildfires in the western United States. The team was assigned to the Cave Canyon Fire, an 8,800-acre blaze located 15 miles southeast of Twin Falls, Idaho. Sixty-seven years of age, Cirafici, returned home last week after a 14 day battle with the 97,616-acre Minidoka Complex Fires. Serving in Colorado just two months prior to his most recent deployment, John left as soon as he got the call regarding the fires in Idaho.
Part of the wildland firefighter crew of the Delaware Forest Service, Cirafici and his colleagues are not a part of any municipal fire company and are specifically trained to deal with wildland fires. These types of fires are very different from urban fires in scope and unpredictability. Dealing with topography and weather, usually in remote areas, these firefighters must be very mobile and react to unusual circumstances.
Milford resident John Cirafici joined 20 Delaware Forest Service volunteers this month to battle the ongoing wildfires in the western United States.
A retired member of special operations forces for the United States military, John, has a background in anti-terrorism as he reported to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has been involved in 12 different international conflicts and was at one time a diplomat to Algeria. In 2008, with no prior fire fighting background, he saw a newspaper article about the Delaware Forest Service Fire Crews and decided to call the program coordinator to apply. He was accepted, graduated from training at the Delaware State Fire School and was on his way to fight his first wildland fire in Northern California.
“It was literally a baptism by fire,” laughed Cirafici. “With my background in the service I really wanted to get involved with something that had a positive impact.”
Since then John has fought wildland fires in Utah, California, Colorado, Idaho and Virginia. As the crew landed in Idaho, they prepared for the hazards of wildland fires including falling trees and ash fields. With the fire creeping closer to residential areas, it was up to the Delaware Fire Crew to help contain the blaze before any property damage occurred. Fighting fire with fire, the crew created a back burn, intentionally starting a controlled fire to create a gap in front of the fire, creating a zone that is difficult for the fire to advance.
“We spent almost a week on the ridge, we lived on that ridge. The helicopter would bring us food, water and supplies,” commented John. “We were covered in soot, up to our knees in ash and enveloped by smoke.”
According to Cirafici, there have been some new fires in the area where the Delaware crews were dispatched but overall the number of big fires are diminishing. Since one crew cannot put out hundreds of acres of any wildland fire the crew focuses on three objectives: protect high value areas (communities and residences), contain fires and mop up areas that have been hit by fire so that they do not reignite.
“The crews from other states are always impressed when they see you have come from a flat place like Delaware and are fighting fires on mountainous areas that are eight thousand feet above sea level,” commented Cirafici. “Delaware should be proud, they are well represented by their firefighter crew.”