For the first time this year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will dispatch wildland firefighters to Montana and Texas to help combat raging fires in the west.
The Iowa DNR fire program consists of roughly 40 firefighters who are short-term, casual hires that may consist of DNR employees, US Forest Service employees, county conservation board members, college students, and other people looking for more experience fighting fires.
There are currently seven wildland firefighters dispatched to Montana and three dispatched to Texas.
How severe are the wildfires?
The Iowa wildland firefighters are the eighth crew to be sent to help with the fire, which spans 2,876 acres, according to NBC Montana. Overnight, the fire covered an additional 1,162 acres and was considered to be just 3% contained.
“The fire is located in some very rugged, steep country, partially in a wilderness area of the forest, which presents more access issues,” said Ryan Schlater, contact fire specialist with the Iowa DNR’s Fire Program, in a release.
The height of the wildfire season is between June and August. According to the American Red Cross, there have been 24,000 wildfires which have burned more than 667,000 acres.
Iowa DNR fire staff will continue to watch and monitor fire behaviors throughout the country, according to the release. Major fire hotspots are found throughout the southwest, with fires in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.
Why dispatch Iowa firefighters?
When it comes to sending firefighters out west, states like Montana will request local wildland firefighters first, according to Gail Kantak, State Wildland Fire Supervisor at Iowa DNR Forestry.
“They’ll use all the local resources they can get a hold of, but if they can’t contain it, then they’ll start reaching out further and further from their home unit,” Kantak said.
That’s where Iowa firefighters come in. All wildland firefighters must take courses in national wildfire coordinating and have a certain level of training and experience.
“We don’t have very many organized wildland fires in Iowa,” Kantak said. “It’s good for firefighters to build their qualifications by participating this way.”
The National Interagency Fire Center is responsible for seeking additional resources when there is anticipation for a fire or a severe active fire, according to Kantak.
“Usually, firefighters will be dispatched when there is already a fire,” Kantak said. “When [the fires] have a longer duration than a day or two, they will send out the crews. The crews are generally there from 14 to 21 days.”
Schlater noted in the release that they are prepared to dispatch more firefighters if they receive orders from the National Interagency Fire Center. All expenses for dispatching Iowa wildland firefighters are covered by the US Forest Service.
By Grace Katzer
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