COLUMBUS TOWNSHIP, Minn. -- Investigators say the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters who were killed battling a fire in Arizona had deployed their fire shelters.
Some of the victims were found inside their shelters while others were found outside of them.
"They are considered an absolute last resort, so firefighters are trained to recognize when they're going into a difficult situation," Minnesota DNR Forester Don Mueller explained.
Minnesota firefighters are trained each spring on the use of fire shelters, which are carried on the hips of all those fighting wild blazes.
The shelter is more like a cross between a blanket and a tent.
"It's made with fiberglass with a foil laminate, and it's meant for reflecting the heat. It can't take direct impingement. The fire can't burn right up against it," DNR Forester Bob Quady said.
Quady has been on the front lines fighting wildfires out west for three decades.
The DNR brought in Jake Beauregard to show the media how it works.
"So he's going to shake out the shelter as quickly as he possibly can, step into and get his body inside the straps," Mueller explained.
The shelter can shield the firefighter from 95 percent of the radiant heat, Mueller said.
"It's going to get hot in here and you might get some burns. But again, it's always worse outside the shelter than in it, so the best chance is to stay in," Beauregard said from beneath the shelter.
These shelters have been used in Minnesota recently, during the Pagami Creek Fire of 2011, which burned just East of Ely. Four firefighters deployed their shelters on a rocky island on a lake surrounded by fire.
"Physically they were fine. The fire shelters worked and their training kicked in," Superior National Forest Supervisor Tim Dabney told KARE 11 by phone.
There were two other firefighters who used one fire shelter as they became trapped in a choppy lake that same day. The shelter shielded them from the heat and they finally came to rest on a rocky outcropping, Dabney said.
Quady says all firefighters are joined by a familial bond, no matter where they are from. He also says the Granite Mountain crew will be missed.
"They're a type one crew, which is a good crew. That's the top of the line. That's as good as they get," he concluded.