Fire season may end, but work continues for BLM AFS Cache

Warehouse preparing equipment for use on future fires

This summer, more than 606 miles of hose was used on fires throughout Alaska. That’s more than the distance between Fairbanks and Homer (580 miles). All that hose needs to be cleaned, inspected for leaks and rolled back up before it can be used again on fires in the Lower 48 or next year in Alaska.

  • After hose is checked for leaks, it's left to dry at the hose pond on BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright.
  • After they're tested for leaks, hose is left out to dry before it's rolled in preparation to be used again.
  • After they're tested for leaks, hose is left out to dry before it's rolled in preparation to be used again.
  • After hose is checked for leaks, it's left to dry at the hose pond on BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright.
  • After they're tested for leaks, hose is left out to dry before it's rolled in preparation to be used again.

Even though the fire season is ending in Alaska, there’s still plenty of work remaining for the BLM Alaska Fire Service Warehouse Cache. This year, 1.9 million pounds of equipment, valued at $25.8 million, was issued through the warehouse at BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright.

A large portion of what goes out, comes back in through the warehouse, and refurbished so it can be used again either in Alaska or in the Lower 48. Time is running out because the borrowed equipment will need to be shipped back to the Lower 48 before the Alaska winter sets in.

Cache materials handlers Morgan Kotche, on left, and Yolanda Copple move hoses over to be tested for leaks at what is called the hose pond at BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright June 3, 2019. The hose must hold water at 300 psi for three minutes.
Cache materials handlers Morgan Kotche, on left, and Yolanda Copple move hoses over to be tested for leaks at what is called the hose pond at BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright June 3, 2019. The hose must hold water at 300 psi for three minutes in order to be reused.

The Alaska Fire Service Warehouse Cache is home to one of six National Type I Fire Caches in the nation. It provides supplies and equipment for all fire suppression and fire management operations in coordination with other statewide agencies such as the State of Alaska, cadastral survey, BLM Field Offices, and Defense Logistics Agency. They also coordinate supply operations with the other 14 national Fire Caches. Several truck loads of equipment was shipped up from the Lower 48 to support Alaska fires.

Warehouse workers Kayra Gracik explains how she and Naomi Eckmann use a hose bagger to put between 500-700 feet of hose into a bag for easy deployment on a fire.

The Cache hired additional people in Alaska and brought other warehouse workers from the Lower 48 to help move equipment in and out to support fires this long fire season. With the exception of the Swan Lake and the McKinley fires, all of the equipment has been returned. This includes 181 miles of hose used on fires within the Chalkyitsik Complex in northeast Alaska, some of which was used to protect the remote village of Chalkyitsik located 169 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

  • BLM AFS Materials Handler Betty Itta, in front, and Kevin Voravong catalog on June 3, 2019 equipment that is turned back in to be refurbished and available for reuse
  • Issuing Unit Leader Bill Bishop answers one of the numerous questions that come in to the BLM AFS Cache on May 30, 2019.
  • Materials Handler Rod Johnson retrieves chainsaws from the shelves for chainsaw kits that will go out to a fire.
  • Materials Handler Melissa Davis puts together a chainsaw kit that will go out to a fire on June 3, 2019.
  • Warehouse worker Jerry Nollner drives a forklift in the BLM AFS Cache on Sept. 24, 2019.

Also issued this year were:

  • 918 pump kits, both Mark III and lightweight pumps
  • 465 chainsaw kits
  • 10,673 meals ready to eat, or otherwise known as MRs
  • 14,694 5-gallon water cubies for a total of 73,472.5 gallons of drinking water for firefighters.
  • 4,233 5-gallon cans of premix fuel for chainsaws and pumps for a total of 21,265 gallons.
  • $12.5 million dollars of inventory was trucked up from Lower 48 caches in support of Alaska fires.
  • Current Cache inventory value is $16.2 million

This year, 722 fires burned an estimated almost 2.6 million acres in Alaska. That’s more than half of the total acres burned for entire country (4.3 million).

However, the fire season is not over in the Lower 48. The BLM AFS Cache often returns the favor and sends equipment south to help with busy fire seasons if needed in the Lower 48.

BLM Alaska Fire Service Fire Cache Warehouse staff at the beginning of the 2019 fire season on May 30, 2019.
BLM Alaska Fire Service Fire Cache Warehouse staff at the beginning of the 2019 fire season on May 30, 2019.

~ Story, photos, and video by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS public affairs specialist.

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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