Monthly Archives: August 2018

Team effort: Australia, New Zealand, Canada send firefighter crews to Pacific NW

A line of firefighters hikes across a smoking ridgetop with rays of setting sun filtering through trees behind them.

BEND, Ore. Aug. 6, 2018 – There approximately 8,000 firefighters and support personnel battling wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, with fires impacting more than 185,000 acres in Oregon and Washington State. During the west’s busy fire season, crews include firefighters and support personnel from the local area, working for both federal and state agencies, and from other parts of the U.S.

This week,  those crews will gain additional support from 85 firefighters and support personnel arriving from Australia and New Zealand to support fire suppression efforts in the Pacific Northwest. Positions include division supervisors, safety officers, task force leaders, strike team leaders, heavy equipment bosses, helicopter managers, helicopter crew members, structure protection specialists, and liaison officers.

two firefighters standing on a cleared fire line are silhouetted by light from burning brush in among adjacent forest.

Two firefighters assigned to the Baker River Hotshots monitoring their night time burnout operations in a unit photo, posted July 24, 2018 to the crew’s Facebook page. Burnouts provide an often critical protective buffer from an advancing wildfire, by clearing terrain of fuels between the main fire and a prepared fire-line. The Baker River Interagency Hotshot Crew is a specialized, 20-person wildland fire suppression crew comprised of USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management personnel.

These wildland fire management positions have been identified as “unable to fill” through the U.S. dispatch/coordination system on a daily basis in recent weeks.

Australia and New Zealand have been key partners with the U.S. fire community for more than 50 years and were last mobilized in 2015 when severe fire activity was similar to this year.

Assistance from Australia and New Zealand is a good fit primarily because their fire organizations are very similar to the United States national fire organization in training requirements and structure.

In addition to the Australia and New Zealand support, two Canadian Convair 580 airtankers and a lead plane from Saskatchewan are currently assigned to support large fires in the Pacific Northwest.

Canada and the United States have a long history of mutual support for fire operations, however at this time Canada has a high level of fire activity to which most of their resources are currently committed.

Members of the Oregon and Washington National Guard and Air National Guard have joined the fire suppression and support effort in their respective states. More than 290 Oregon National Guard personnel are currently deployed to the Garner Complex and other incidents, and this number could climb to nearly 600 personnel this Friday. Washington National Guard has 125 personnel assigned to fires.

“The NW is grateful to all our firefighters and support personnel, including those from Oregon and Washington National Guard units, as well as the firefighters from across the United States and those coming from overseas to help us out,” Dan O’Brien, Northwest Coordination Center Manager, said. “This interagency and international cooperation reflects the very best of the firefighting community. When communities are in need, so many firefighters answer the call.”

Large fires are continuing throughout the West, particularly in the Northwest, Northern Rockies, Northern California, Southern California and Great Basin Areas. Approximately 140 uncontained wildfires are currently burning on more than 1.4 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Utah, Alaska and Arizona.

The National Preparedness Level remains at 5, the highest level, indicating a high level of wildfire activity and a high level of commitment of available wildfire suppression assets, such as firefighters, aircraft, and engines. Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue to be conducive to wildfire ignitions and spread for the next few weeks.

Fire managers remind the public to “know before you go” what fire restrictions may be in place in the area you visiting. Many local units have campfire bans or restrictions in place. If campfires are allowed, make sure campfires are “dead out” and cold to the touch before leaving.

“Our firefighters are very busy responding to lightning-caused wildfires,” said O’Brien. “Please help us out by being safe and responsible with fire so we don’t add unnecessary human-caused wildfires to the mix.”

So far this summer, there have been 414 human-caused wildfires in Oregon and 873 human-caused wildfires in Washington.

Source information: Northwest Interagency Coordination Center public affairs staff.

The NWCC is the Geographic Area Coordination Center for the Northwest Region, which includes the States of Oregon and Washington. Located in Portland, Ore., the NWCC serves as the focal point for interagency resource coordination, logistics support, aviation support and predictive services for all state and federal agencies involved in wildland fire management and suppression in the region. Cooperating agencies include the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Dept. of Forestry, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and the National Park Service.