By Kim Glovas

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Firefighters across the country are watching the drama play out in Arizona, where 19 firefighters lost their lives battling an 8,000-acre wildfire (see related story).

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The New Jersey Forest Fire Service has been assisting other states in battling wildfires since 1985.  Steve Maurer, assistant state fire warden, says his agency is ready to send crews wherever they are needed.

“Obviously, our hearts go out to the family, friends, and relatives of the nineteen firefighters who lost their lives,” he said today, “and as a firefighting community, we all feel their pain.”

Maurer says firefighting is hot business under normal conditions, but weather conditions in Arizona were anything but normal.

“We’ve all seen the media reports of the  weather conditions currently, with temperatures in the 100+ range, so I’m sure that the conditions that the firefighters were experiencing were severe to begin with, before the fire was even brought into the picture.”

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And he notes that battling a forest fire is different from fighting a building fire.

“We can’t surround the fire and pour water onto it as a structural firefighter can,” he tells KYW Newsradio.   “We actually have to chase the fire.  So it’s a living, breathing enemy that we’re combatting.  We’re also carrying all our gear with us.”

He also says any East Coast firefighters sent out to Arizona will have a more difficult time breathing at first, because there is less oxygen at that state’s higher elevations.

Maurer says sometimes wildfires can last for weeks and even months out west.


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