More Alaska firefighters heading Outside

More Alaska firefighters heading Outside

09 August 2014

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USA — Another batch of Alaska firefighters are heading south to help battle wildfires in the Lower 48.

A plane carrying five emergency firefighting crews totaling 100 firefighters was scheduled to fly to California today to help in suppressing two wildfires in northern California.

Four of the crews are from the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service and comprised of firefighters from rural villages — Koyukuk, Kaltag, Fort Yukon and Venetie. The fifth crew, Delta, is from the Alaska Division of Forestry. Each crew contains 20 firefighters.

Approximately 300 Alaska personnel in the form of hot shot crews, smoke jumpers and overhead personnel already have been shipped to the Lower 48 in recent weeks to assist in firefighting efforts in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. But this marks the first time any Type 2 emergency firefighter crews have been shipped south, said fire information officer Mel Slater with the AFS.

The firefighters flying south today will be sent to the July Complex, which consists of two wildfires covering almost 7,000 acres in the 1.7-million acre Klamath National Forest. Crews typically work two-week stints on Lower 48 assignments, Slater said.

Currently, there are Alaska hot shot crews and smoke jumpers fighting fires in Idaho and Oregon. Overhead personnel for management and logistics type positions have been sent to work in various locations.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at Fort Wainwright said planning is underway for a potential second plane load of emergency firefighters to be shipped to the Lower 48.

In addition, the Alaska Type 1 team has moved up to number three on the national rotation list.

Alaska can spare the firefighters as a result of a slow fire season that is “all but over,” according to a press release issued by the Alaska Fire Service on Thursday.

This year’s fire season in Alaska was the slowest in years as a result of record rainfall that blanketed the Interior in the last half of June and most of July. More than 9 inches of rain fell at Fairbanks International Airport between June 18 and July 31, resulting in the wettest June on record in Fairbanks and the second-wettest July.

Only 226,945 acres burned in Alaska this summer, well below the average of about 1 million acres. There have been virtually no new fires in the state since it started raining in mid-June, allowing fire managers to focus their efforts on providing support for firefighting efforts in the Lower 48.

A small amount of resources have been withheld in Alaska to address the slim potential for fire activity here, Slater said.

In fact, a load of seven smokejumpers responded to a 10-acre fire caused by a lightning strike northeast of the village of Noatak in northwest Alaska on Thursday. The fire was in a full suppression management area and smokejumpers responded to extinguish the fire, Slater said.

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