Bob Pickering was a high-schooler in 1985, and had just helped organize a group of amateur radio enthusiasts to help out if there was ever a disaster.

That disaster hit May 17, when fires burned a swath across Flagler County.

Pickering and other first responders quickly learned of a major shortcoming.

"When agencies from other counties came in here to assist us, those agencies couldn't communicate to our folks, so that was a big problem," said Pickering.

Dave Preat is a Flagler County firefighter and paramedic, but back then he was a Volusia County firefighter who came up help.

One of the worst feelings when battling such a blaze, according to Preat: "There was no communication. I mean, I couldn't talk to the guy standing next to me, because I didn't have the right channel."

(FILE/Bill Butler)

The "Black Friday" fires of 1985 could be considered the once-in-a-generation type.

"Never happen again," said Palm Coast fire Chief Mike Beadle, who was helping his parents move into their new home to begin their retirement that weekend.

Thirteen years later, in 1998, Beadle was in Palm Coast working for the Fire Department, when another round of brush fires erupted. That blaze forced the entire county to evacuate.

(FILE/Flagler County,

Robert Creal was Flagler Beach's fire chief during both disasters. Now semi-retired, he remembers both well.

"'85 was three or four days, and it was over with," Creal recalled. "'98 just went on, it seemed like forever."

(PHOTO/Bill Butler)

During the 1985 fires, there were only two fire trucks in Flagler Beach. Creal said they quickly decided to cycle the two in three- to four-hour shifts to keep the crews and trucks fresh.

Firefighters credit FireFlight, a helicopter bought by the county, with keeping recent brush fires from becoming the next disaster here.

Tactics and equipment have also changed with the times, as have ways we all communicate to get the word out about possible evacuations.

"It could happen tomorrow" in Flagler County, Beadle put it bluntly. "We track it daily. We look at weather reports, we work with forestry on the state level to find out what we're in store for."