Returning the Favor: With Bases Covered at Home, ODF Crews Assist With Alaska Wildfire Response

With relatively favorable early fire season conditions, last week the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) sent personnel to Alaska to assist with wildfire suppression. ODF leadership selected personnel from areas where current conditions and available resources allow for the opportunity to send help to our Alaskan partners while ensuring capacity to respond to any local fires on the home front.

As partners in the Northwest Compact — an agreement allowing quick and cost-effective resources sharing across state and international lines — Oregon and Alaska have helped one another in years past. Most recently, crews from Alaska provided assistance on both the Klondike and Taylor fires during the 2018 fire season.

The Alaska deployment offers unique firefighting challenges and training opportunities, such as working on the permafrost, avoiding conflicts with local wildlife, and the need for helicopter rides for personnel to remote fire camps. While this experience may differ from typical fires in Oregon, the objective is familiar for ODF crews: safely put fires out while they are small. Given ODF strives to safely put fires out at 10 acres or less 98 percent of the time, the focus on an initial attack is a familiar one for these skilled firefighters.

“These ODF crews were selected from across the state for their skill and experience with the initial attack, as well as the availability and conditions back home. Our folks are not assigned to a large fire up here but are relieving exhausted personnel engaged in continuing efforts to catch new fire starts while they are small. As part of Oregon’s complete and coordinated system, and the Northwest Compact, this is what ODF is all about,” said ODF’s Jamie Paul, serving as the Agency Representative for ODF resources in Alaska. “We are happy the timing allows us to assist our interagency Alaskan partners in their time of need.”

With 8 overhead positions and 20 initial attack crew members, ODF has a total of 28 personnel currently engaged in Alaska. As crews prioritize initial attack efforts and minimize the long-term impact on resources, overhead positions are helping oversee operations. The maximum duration of the standard 14-day assignment is expected, while some resources will head home as early as next week.

Consisting of 5 U.S. states; Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, the NW Compact also includes the 5 Canadian Provinces/Territories of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

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