ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — Firefighters who are used to knocking down doors with heavy equipment and battling suffocating flames have learned new ways technology can help them more efficiently battle big blazes.

Trainees at the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy Winter Fire School in St. George spent a lot of time last month operating touch screens, analyzing data and learning ways to implement technology, The Spectrum reported .

Firefighters learned to use three-dimensional map projections that pop up from the floor like holograms and show a computerized simulation of how a fire would spread, or how traffic might impede their access, or how an unsuspected gas leak might complicate matters.

"We can input pretty much anything, and we get a working model of what's likely to happen next," said Wildland Program Manager for the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy Dan Cather as he thumbed away at a tablet touch screen. "We can set up hypothetical situations, simulate incidents and really be prepared for different changes in conditions."

Cather cycled through menus and decided to throw a new challenge up on the map, adding a chlorine gas leak that started to slowly rise up and spread toward a street busy with homes and passing vehicles.

"The technology is there. It's just a matter of us learning how to utilize it," he said.

Wildfires over the past year across the western U.S. have raised the profile of firefighting expertise and citizens' expectations of their local departments.

The two-day training event featured more than 700 firefighters, with some 130 instructors from around the region. Classrooms were set up at the Dixie Center, at the Dixie Applied Technology College and at training locations around St. George, with sessions set up for everything from driver's safety to how to investigate a scene to determine the cause of a fire.

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Information from: The Spectrum, http://www.thespectrum.com