(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) – Four Type 2 Emergency Firefighter crews will mobilize to the Lower 48 on Sunday to help with the busy fire season. The crews with 19 firefighters apiece from Fairbanks and rural villages will board a plane in Fairbanks on Sunday bound for Idaho before being assigned to wildland fires in the area.
As it has in past years when wildland fire activity in the Lower 48 surpasses demand for available resources, Alaska responded to the call for help by providing assistance to multiple states and agencies in the western United States. During the past few months, hundreds of Alaska firefighting personnel have deployed to support suppression efforts on fires as the nation’s resources are stretched thin. Almost 5 million acres have burned nationally so far this year. As of Thursday, 135 work for, or are sponsored by the Alaska Division of Forestry with the remaining personnel coming from the Bureau of Land Management (69), U.S. Forest Service (33), National Park Service (3), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (6). They’re working in a variety of roles in 10 different states whether it’s as a warehouse worker, a timekeeper or a firefighter. Seven of Alaska’s 10 agency crews made the migration south earlier this season while other resources are kept in state to respond to fire activity as needed. As of Thursday, 331 fires have burned an estimated 392,982 acres in Alaska, far below the annual average season of about 1 million acres burned.
Sending firefighting personnel to the Lower 48 not only provides assistance to states in desperate need, it also helps Alaska maintain reciprocal relationships with wildland firefighting agencies in the Lower 48. In 2015, for example, when more than 5.1 million acres burned in Alaska, firefighting personnel from 44 different states came to assist in what ranks as the second-largest Alaska fire season on record in terms of acreage burned.
Lower 48 deployments also provide Alaska firefighting personnel with valuable experience and training opportunities that are no longer available in Alaska as fire conditions have moderated and require fewer suppression resources. The ability to deploy priority trainees to fires in the Lower 48 allows individuals to get training beneficial not only to protect Alaska, but the rest of the country from wildfires.