Fire crews from Lower 48 take precautions as they help out with Alaska fires

11 June 2020

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USA – ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – According to the state Division of Forestry, about 150 people from the Lower 48 are currently in Alaska helping the state control its fires.

All firefighters went through testing when they landed in Alaska. They waited for test results to come back negative before starting work.

“The agencies spent a lot of time developing these protocols and best practices to keep our firefighters safe and the public safe,” said Tim Mowry, an Alaska Division of Forestry public information officer. “And also, to reduce the potential for bringing in COVID from outside.”

Mowry said teams have kept incident command centers and camps small to avoid large gatherings.

Many of the fires that have burned in the 2020 season have been in rural Alaska, according to Mowry. He said that agencies have paid special attention to rural communities to make sure they are safe.

“What we’ve been doing is calling out to the community in advance, finding the first chief, contacting them,” said Beth Ipsen, a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management. “Get the word out that we’re going to have people bringing on the airstrip. Please, keep your distance, we don’t want that interaction.”

Last fire season, Alaska saw more than 5,000 personnel come to Alaska to assist.

“Alaska is a huge state,” Mowry said. “We just don’t have enough in a busy year. We don’t have the resources to handle the number of fires, like, say we had last year, or in 2015.”

Mowry said that this year, Alaska’s fires have burned more acreage than they have last fire season this time of year. He said it is too soon to predict what the fire season will look like for this year.

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