TAVARES — Whether in the forests of northern Idaho or the tourist mountain towns of Tennessee, when deadly wildfires break out, Lake County Fire Rescue Bat. Chief Randy Jones will be there ready to serve.
Chief Jones, a Structure Protection Specialist for the National Interagency Fire Center’s Southern Area Incident Management Red Team, has been tapped to fight what has been described as “apocalyptic” fires in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The fires, thought to be the result of arson, have claimed the lives of at least seven people and torched more than 16,000 acres, claiming hundreds of homes and forcing tens of thousands of evacuations.
This is Jones’ third deployment in two years, and while each individual fire can be strikingly different, Jones prepares in the same manner for every one.
“My bags stay packed,” said Jones, who arrived Wednesday evening. “They call me and I’m out the door.”
The veteran firefighter is assigned for the next two weeks to the Chimney Tops 2 Fire in the Great Smoky Mountains, which sparked Monday morning.
“This is very unusual in this part of the country,” said Jones. “This will be a historic fire.”
Jones explained that maple and oak trees, which mark the area’s landscape, usually don’t provide good fuel, which is why wildfires of such magnitude are less common in the mid-eastern United States. However, the Appalachian Region has seen little rain since September, causing extreme drought conditions.
“My wife is worried,” Jones said. “She’s a retired firefighter so she knows what’s going on.”
Her advice sounds simple: “Be careful. Don’t get hurt.”
But Jones has decades of training and experience on his side. He began his career with Lake County Fire Rescue in 1984, and was later invited to join the exclusive federal Incident Management Team to respond to wildfires and large-scale disasters, having worked hurricanes Katrina, Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, and fighting fires in Texas, Georgia, California, Washington, Virginia and Oregon.
“Chief Jones has been involved with wildland firefighting for over 30 years. His expertise on urban interface suppression and protection is unparalleled,” said Lake County Fire Chief Jim Dickerson. “I am extremely proud of Chief Jones’ selflessness and desire to serve the citizens of this great county and nation. We wish him a speedy and safe return.”
While Jones works to protect life and property in Tennessee, he also offers advice for residents back home. Wildfires can occur at any time in Florida, and there are steps people can take now to help keep their families safe, he said.
Clear roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris that could catch embers; replace or repair any loose or missing shingles to prevent fire from penetrating the home; screen areas under patios with mesh to prevent debris from accumulating and move flammable material such as mulch, leaves, pine needles and firewood piles away from wall exteriors.
“These are things people can do here year-round to help firefighters give their homes a better chance of survival,” said Jones. Visit www.firewise.org for additional details.
For more information about Lake County Fire Rescue’s operations, visit www.lakecountyfl.gov/firerescue, www.facebook.com/LakeCountyFireRescue, or www.twitter.com/lakefirePIO.