Like Interior rivers, state forestry firefighters rise to the occasion to help fill sandbags for City of Nenana

While heavy rain last week brought a temporary halt to the wildfire season throughout much of the Interior, it caused rivers to rise dramatically and prompted flood warnings from the National Weather Service in many areas, including Nenana, where the Tanana River was predicted to reach flood stage on Thursday or Friday.

So when Nenana Volunteer Fire Department/EMS Fire Chief Joe Forness put a call out for help filling sandbags to prepare the small town on the bank of the Tanana River 55 miles south of Fairbanks for potential flooding, wildland firefighters at the Alaska Division of Forestry Fairbanks station did just what the rivers did – they rose to the occasion.

Approximately 40 DOF firefighters spent about five hours on Thursday filling hundreds of sandbags for the City of Nenana. The entire 22-person White Mountain Fire crew, as well as about two dozen wildland fire technicians, spent the day filling, tying and hauling sandbags that could be used to protect low-lying homes and businesses in the event of a flood.

“I wasn’t here in 2008 but everyone who was said that sandbags were paramount in helping reduce damage,” Forness said, referring to another flooding event in the town. “The National Weather Service said this would be similar to the flooding in 2008 so we decided to go ahead and start preparing.”

Firefighters, who used the work as a substitute for their daily physical training, were more than glad to help out.

“A lot of people drawn to wildland firefighting do it because they feel like they’re making a difference,” Fairbanks Area wildland fire technician Teo Fusco said as he tied the top of a sandbag. “So whenever there’s a chance to help a community, even though it’s outside of our normal duties, we’re glad to do it.”

 The firefighters filled around 2,000 sandbags with four truckloads of sand provided by the City of Nenana that had been dredged from the Tanana River. The sound of shovels sinking into the sand and clanging against rocks echoed through the parking lot behind the A-Frame Chevron station as firefighters worked in assembly line fashion to fill the bags.

“They went through the first two loads pretty quick so we had the city dump another two loads,” Forness.

The sandbags were hauled and unloaded in a nearby warehouse to be stored in the event they were needed for this or a future flood event. Forness was grateful for the help.

“It would have been me and a couple of other people out here bagging if these guys hadn’t showed up,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been able to fill a fraction of what they did. It’s awesome. I can’t put it into words.”

White Mountain crew member Keenan Wallace said it was all in a day’s work.

“We’re trained to fight fire but we’ll answer any call if people need help,” he said. “You put out the Bat-Signal and we’ve got you.”

About Alaska Division of Forestry

Alaska Division of Forestry website: http://forestry.alaska.gov/ Mission: The Alaska Division of Forestry proudly serves Alaskans through forest management and wildland fire protection. The Wildland Fire and Aviation Program provides safe, cost-effective and efficient fire protection services and related fire and aviation management activities to protect human life and values on State, private and municipal lands. The wildland fire program cooperates with other wildland fire agencies on a statewide, interagency basis.

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