WALPOLE (CBS) – Massachusetts has its own elite team of firefighters similar to the Arizona Granite Mountain Hotshots, who lost nineteen men while battling a massive wildfire Sunday.

Read: Worcester Firefighters React To Arizona Tragedy

The Massachusetts Wildfire Crew is a group of specially trained firefighters who battle wildfires all over the country.

John Lightbody of Walpole served on the crew for 15 years. He recalls how unpredictable and dangerous wildfires can be.

“The wind changes back and forth. And you don’t outrun it… When they say it’s like a living animal, it’s really amazing,” Lightbody told WBZ-TV Monday.

Lightbody has fought wildfires in nine states, including California, Alaska, and Arizona.

He remembers one particularly dangerous fire in Montana where his team came close to deploying emergency shelters similar to the ones used by the Arizona firefighters.

The tents are designed for extreme emergencies to shield firefighters from flames. The shelters, which look like foil sleeping bags, are heat resistant, but can’t withstand direct flame.

Lightbody says you have to find a spot clear of any brush so it won’t catch fire.

“As you put it down, you have to catch as much air as you can, and clear the spot,” says Lightbody. “If you’re in any kind of wooded area, they don’t work.”

WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager reports

Chief Massachusetts Fire Warden David Celino’s crews carry the same portable shelters.

“We want to actually trap fresh oxygenated air in the shelter. They need to stay in there until that flame front moves past it,” says Celino.

Lightbody retired from fighting wildfires in 2009, but says the loss of so many firefighters is hitting home. It’s a reminder of how quickly wildfires can get out of control.

“It’s horrifying,” says Lightbody. “They were professionals. Those Hotshot guys they know what they’re doing.”

“Even though we’re 2,800 miles away, they’re like our own family,” says Celino.

WBZ-TV’s Sera Congi and Christina Hager contributed to this report.


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