Crews head south for Lower 48 fires

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Aug. 3, 2016 – Five 20-person Alaska firefighting crews boarded a jet Wednesday afternoon to join firefighting efforts in the Lower 48. The Division of Forestry Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) Gannett Glacier and White Mountain crews, the Chugachmiut contract Type 2 IA Yukon crew and the two Type 2 training crews, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanook Wildland Fire Crew and the BLM Alaska Fire Service’s North Star Fire Crew will be joining the 1,497 people already working on the 48,350-acre Pioneer Fire near Idaho City, Idaho. As Alaska’s moderate fire season continues to wind down and the fire season in the Lower 48 picks up, our firefighting resources will head south to join the efforts where needed. Three of Alaska’s interagency hotshot crews, a U.S. Forest Service Type 2 IA crew and 24 BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers are already on fires in the Lower 48. The BLM AFS Midnight Suns, Chena, DOF Pioneer Peak Type 1 interagency hotshot crews and the U.S. Forest Service R10 Type 2 IA crew made the trip south earlier this season as fire activity allowed. The Chena, Midnight Suns and Pioneer Peak hotshots are working on the Rail Fire 10 miles southwest of Unity, Oregon. As of Tuesday, there were 266 people from the Division of Forestry, BLM AFS, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service that already made the trip south for fire assignments whether as a single resource or part of a helicopter or hand crew. Aircraft have also been trickling south recently to include helicopters, the contracted water-scooping Fire Boss aircraft and the DOF air retardant tankers.

Alaska will maintain its initial attack response capability with remaining BLM AFS smokejumpers, DOF crews and 45 emergency firefighting crews in case fire activity picks up. However, with continued rain and cooler temperatures forecasted throughout most of Alaska, the likelihood is low. As of Tuesday, Aug. 2, there are still 84 active fires in Alaska. So far this season 521 fires have burned more than 427,807 acres. The only staffed fire, the Iniukuk Lake Fire (#320), has three BLM AFS personnel concentrating on protecting the structures from this 36,000-acre fire burning in a limited protection area about 40 miles west of Bettles.

Wildland fire management relies heavily upon interagency cooperation not only in Alaska, but nationally. If needed, resources often come up from the Lower 48 to help, such as the five hotshot crews that helped with the McHugh Fire near Anchorage last month and the two water-scooping CL-415s airplanes at the beginning of the season. Then, when Alaska’s fire season winds down, the activity often picks up in Lower 48 regions. Alaska is in preparedness level 1 – the lowest out of five levels dictated by burning conditions, fire activity and resource availability – while the Lower 48 upgraded to level three last week. This cost-effective way of sharing resources benefits the fire community and those who work it, many of whom are seasonally employed in a variety of roles whether in logistics, finance, planning or as a firefighter.

For more information, contact the Fire Information Center at (907)356-5511 or email Beth Ipsen, BLM Alaska Fire Service public affairs specialist at eipsen@blm.gov.

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About BLM Alaska Fire Service

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service (AFS) located at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, provides wildland fire suppression services for over 244 million acres of Department of the Interior and Native Corporation Lands in Alaska. In addition, AFS has other statewide responsibilities that include: interpretation of fire management policy; oversight of the BLM Alaska Aviation program; fuels management projects; and operating and maintaining advanced communication and computer systems such as the Alaska Lightning Detection System. AFS also maintains a National Incident Support Cache with a $10 million inventory. The Alaska Fire Service provides wildland fire suppression services for America’s “Last Frontier” on an interagency basis with the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Military in Alaska.

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