(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) – The final four of the 23 Type 2 emergency firefighter crews (EFF) who have fought fire in the Lower 48 this year are returning to Alaska Sunday afternoon after spending two weeks working on a wildfire in Montana. The returning crews – Nulato, Marshall, Upper Tanana #2 and Fairbanks #1 – are among the largest number of Alaska Type 2 crews deployed to the Lower 48 in several years.
Alaska responded to the call for help from the Lower 48, as it has in years past, by providing assistance to multiple states and agencies in the western United States. During the past three months, hundreds of Alaska firefighting personnel deployed to help with suppression efforts on wildfires in 11 states as the country draws close to another record-breaking fire season with 8.5 million acres burned nationally as of Sept. 22. The number of Alaskans deployed dwindled from a high of 740 on Aug. 25 to 389 on Sept. 20 after cold and wet weather moved into northwestern states this past week, decreasing fire activity in many states. Of that number, 181 work for, or are sponsored by the Alaska Division of Forestry with the remaining personnel coming from the Bureau of Land Management (148), U.S. Forest Service (32), National Park Service (15), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (12), and National Weather Service (1).
In the past three months, Alaska firefighting personnel have filled 3,952 assignment requests in the Lower 48, many of whom have worked on multiple assignments in multiple states. More than half the people are on crews while the remaining personnel represent overhead positions needed to support incident management. In addition to 10 agency-sponsored crews, most of which have spent the last 2-1/2 months in the Lower 48 working on multiple fires, the Alaska Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT), one of 16 Type 1 IMTs in the country, has been called upon three times so far this summer.
Sending firefighting personnel to the Lower 48 not only provides assistance to states in desperate need, it also helps Alaska maintain reciprocal relationships with wildland firefighting agencies in the Lower 48. In 2015, for example, when more than 5.1 million acres burned in Alaska, firefighting personnel from 44 different states came to assist in what ranks as the second-largest Alaska fire season on record in terms of acreage burned.
Lower 48 deployments also provide Alaska firefighting personnel with valuable experience and training opportunities that are no longer available in Alaska because fire season has ended. The ability to deploy those priority trainees to fires in the Lower 48 allows those individuals to get the training beneficial to not only to protect Alaska from wildfires, but also the rest of the country.
Another major benefit to deploying personnel to the Lower 48 is the economic boost it provides to Alaska, especially in rural Alaska where many of our EFF crews live. A majority of the firefighting personnel’s assignment earnings are spent in Alaska and provide for their families. A benefit for the State of Alaska is its firefighting personnel are paid by the agency they are working for rather than the State during assignments.
Contact BLM Alaska Fire Service Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at (907)356-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to coordinate coverage of the EFF crews returning to Alaska at approximately 12:45 p.m. on Sunday at BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.