Equipment accountability on the Middle Tanana Complex

All around Alaska, boats were used to transport fire personnel and gear on wildfires this summer. This was especially true when thick smoke reduces visibility and grounds firefighting aircraft, sometimes for days as it did a month ago. The Middle Tanana Complex, consisting of nine fires burning in Interior Alaska north and east of Delta Junction, is a perfect example of how boats were utilized this summer.

There are few to no roads providing access to equipment locations which makes travel difficult.

Video depicting a day on the Salcha River, accounting for equipment in place for structure protection and staged if future needs arise.

Incident Commander Josh Bransford and Operations Section Chief Jonathan Moore utilized a boat over several days to access the more isolated areas along the Salcha, Tanana, and Goodpaster rivers. A boat provides the ability to confirm locations of equipment and add any equipment that was not previously accounted for within a mapping system. The team will take these location points and build a plan to retrieve the equipment in a safe and efficient manner.

This equipment includes hoses, pumps, gas cans, and sprinkler kits. It is put in place where there is a need to protect values at risk such as homes and infrastructure, including power lines

Two men in black jackets and green pants check equipment and supplies sitting on an rocky shore. Cloudy sky and trees fill the background with a large open grassy field along the river.
Incident Commander Josh Bransford and Operations Section Chief Jonathan Moore check equipment located along the Salcha River

Completing these operations can take hours, if not a full day.  The task of confirming all equipment on the Salcha River alone took about eight hours between the boat launching and returning at the end of the day.

A man in black jacket and green pants stands on shore of the Salcha River while holding an iPad. River and boat are in the background with a cloudy, blue sky.
Incident Commander Josh Bransford reviews equipment locations in a mapping program accessible on an iPad.

A safety briefing is given before each trip and includes emergency boat operations and information on the location of the medical kit and fire extinguisher. A life jacket is issued to each person. The boat runs at full throttle in 60-degree, cloudy weather.  While the local boat operator may be acclimated to wear jeans and a t-shirt, that is not always the case for the fire personnel on board. Don’t be surprised to see firefighters step onto the boat with their green pants, boots, and a few top layers to keep warm.  Some even don a beanie and gloves for the trip.  

A red and silver pump, white hose, and red fuel can wit on a rock covered ground next to a river. Cloudy blue sky and hills with trees fill the background.
A pump, hose, and fuel can in place for structure protection along the Salcha River

While it may be brisk and refreshing, this is one of the best ways to experience the wildlife and the wildlands of Alaska. If one keeps an eye on either shoreline and you just might see beavers and moose. Almost like clockwork, a bald eagle can be seen posted up on log piles by the shore, up in a tree, or flying alongside the boat as it moves through the water. Taking in the fresh air and seeing fish jump as the sun pokes through the clouds is a nice reprieve from the cool temperatures. Even when light rain begins to fall from the sky, this remains one of the best ways to commute to work on a wildfire.

Once a fire has received enough rain to penetrate the thick layer of duff – the partially decomposed and matted leaves, twigs and bark beneath freshly tree litter – the equipment is no longer needed   It must be removed using boats, helicopters or airplanes depending on location. This equipment is brought back into the warehouse where it is cleaned, tested and packaged to go to the next fire. 

While there is not a current need for additional boat support, an application process is available for future needs through the State of Alaska Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement application at if you are interested. 

Categories: AK Fire Info

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