How Do Firefighters Tame a Monster Wildfire?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 29, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A massive chunk of Southern California has been charred, as we've been telling you. And many areas are being threatened by several growing wildfires.

As a firefighter, how do you begin to try to get control of these infernos?

Heather Nauert (search) is here were some ideas.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: More than 11,000 firefighters are battling fires spread over 800,000 square miles in California. Forestry officials say that the resources are stretched to the breaking point and that firefighters are exhausted. The situation is barely improving and, in fact, a wind shift could send fires back over towns that have already been burned.

Mike Da Luz of the U.S. Forest Service (search) is here to talk about what the firefighters can do now. He is in charge of managing fire resources for five western states, including Colorado.

He joins us today from Denver for today's big question. Mike, how on earth do you tame a monster wildfire like this one?

MIKE DA LUZ, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Heather, as you see the situation right now, we're at the mercy of the fire behavior, at the mercy of the winds, the effects of drought, etc. And what we're going to do is take advantage of opportunities, as they present themselves.

We want to anchor into those areas where we can, and take aggressive attack after we have provided for public safety and firefighter safety and then we will take opportunities as we can.

NAUERT: Now this fire is just so incredibly massive and you see the video of the planes going overhead and dropping the fire retardant (search). How is it even possible to stop a fire like that — that is so huge? It just seems that those planes and helicopters can barely put a dent in it.

DE LUZ: I don't think we are able to extinguish these fires. We are literally at the fire's mercy at the present time. Most of the actions you see right now are in defense of property, in helping folks find safety.

Those are the kinds of little bits of action we can take. When the fire behavior turns a little bit more in our favor, we'll be able to be a little bit more aggressive in the attack.

NAUERT: What does it take for that fire to turn in your favor?

DE LUZ: In this case, we're looking for some weather changes. We're looking for relief from the winds. We've gotten some relief from the Santa Anas, now we have this wind shift coming on shore...

I think the other issue for us will be the prolonged drought, what it has done for drying out the fuels. And in Southern California, all of the topography (search), the steep canyons are going to pose some very critical efforts for us.

NAUERT: It's just amazing with all technology that we have today that there is not more that man can do to actually stop this. You had mentioned that one of your strategies is to try to pinch the fire. Can you describe what that actually is and how that has an impact on the fire?

DE LUZ: You bet. Classical firefighting is we find a place where we can safely anchor. We then go through the sides of what we call flanking actions and start to work through containing the fire on the edges and work our way toward the head of the fire, and hopefully by the time we get there, we can contain the fire.

A lot of that depends, again, on those variables that are driving the fire behavior. And right now, for most of the fires in Southern California, those conditions are not in our favor.

NAUERT: Now this is a combination of both an urban and a rural fire. What kind of strategies do you use when you have to handle that kind of combination?

DE LUZ: Again, I think universal to all of us is our concern for public safety. We want to get folks out of harm's way. So, we're going to focus to assist on things like evacuations. We're going to try to make those escape routes as safe as possible, to move as many people out of harm's way.

Secondly, I think, when we start to commit resources, whether they be fire engines or aircraft or ground firefighting forces, to be able to assure to the best of our ability that we provide for their safety as well. And then we go ahead from there to take on the kinds of tactics of the day, if you will.

NAUERT: All right. Mike Da Luz of the U.S. Forest Service. Thank you so much — John.

GIBSON: All right, Heather, thank you very much.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2003 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2003 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.