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More Tar Heel Fire Fighters Head for Florida

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FAYETTEVILLE — North Carolina is one of 41 states answering a plea for help from Florida's governor. A call for heavy equipment is being heard by fire crews here at home.

Firefighters from six N.C. counties left Fayetteville Friday morning headed for Ocala, Florida. They're taking trucks and other heavy equipment to help get the flames under control.

A total of 19 fire trucks and 56 fire fighters from Cumberland, Wayne, Harnett, Bladen, Person, and Forsyth counties left Fayetteville Friday morning. Their main mission will be to fight structure fires, but before they drove out, they were told to be prepared for everything.

"There's already a lot of people down there but they can only fight fire for so long," said Pinewood fire fighter Justin Bulduc, as he prepared to leave Friday. "Everybody needs a break, we just need as many people as we can get."

N.C. fire fighters who are already in Florida have been on the front lines for nine days, but things have worsened. The latest men and women to head south can expect 12 hour days and very hot conditions.

"Fatigue and heat -- as with any fire whether its a woods fire or an interior structure attack -- heat is your number one enemy," said Pat Valdez, a fire fighter from Lake Rim who's heading for Florida.

Before leaving Fayetteville, the firefighters were urged to remember safety.

"This type of fire they are going to down there, we've never experienced here," said Cumberland County Fire Marshal Ricky Strickland. "I don't think they even understand what types of fire they are going to."

Firefighters say helping out with Florida's crisis is the least they can do after Floridians showed up here following Hurricane Fran.

"We are just returning the favor, it's something that needs to be done," said Lafayette Village Fire Fighter Zahra Khaleghi. "If we are in time of need again as far as woods fires or another hurricane, I am sure they will be up here to help us."

A total of 100 firefighters and 52 fire trucks from 31 departments have been dispatched to Florida from N.C.

Officials say the crews who have been there for a couple of weeks will be switched out with more crews from the Charlotte area who will head south Monday.