The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense and FEMA today announced more air support and additional Fire Management Grants to bolster the federal effort to protect life and public safety in response to fires in Western states.
Twenty-one airtankers continue to cycle in and out of firefighting action today across the western states, and more than 8,800 personnel, more than 550 fire engines and 170 helicopters are operating on wildfires around the U.S. Approximately half of active federal wildfire-fighting resources are currently staged in Colorado. More than 1,000 federal, state and local firefighters, approximately 70 fire engines and six helicopters are fighting the aggressive Waldo Canyon fire today in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs.
This includes four C-130 aircraft provided by the Department of Defense, equipped with U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, which have conducted 47 air drops and have dropped more than 127,500 gallons of retardant on the Waldo Canyon and Flagstaff fires.
"We are committed to continuing to do everything we can to provide the firefighters, aircraft and equipment necessary to suppress some of the most challenging wildfires we've experienced in years," said Tom Harbour, U.S. Forest Service director of Fire and Aviation Management. "The U.S. military has been a key partner in wildland firefighting for decades, serving as ground firefighters on the ground and supporting our air fleet with additional tankers."
The United States Army has also provided bulldozers, other heavy equipment and over 150 soldiers to cut fire breaks in response to the fires. Twenty-two fire trucks from five military bases including the Air Force Academy have joined the effort.
Fire activity in the Rocky Mountains, Eastern Great Basin and northern Rockies has significantly increased over the last few days, causing the National Preparedness Level to be raised to 4 on Wednesday. Preparedness Levels are dictated by burning conditions, fire activity and resource availability. The five Preparedness Levels range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest level. Each Preparedness Level has specific management directions. As the Preparedness Levels rise, more federal and state employees become available for fire mobilization if needed.
"We are continuing to coordinate closely with local, state, and tribal partners as we deploy resources through the National Interagency Fire Center," said Kim Thorsen, who oversees emergency management, security and law enforcement at the Department of the Interior. "The protection of human safety and communities remains the top priority as we battle wildfires across the West in very challenging conditions."
The National Multi-Agency Coordination Group establishes National Preparedness Levels throughout the calendar year to help assure that wildland firefighting resources are ready to respond to new incidents.
Last night, FEMA approved Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) for Montana's Ash Creek Fire in Powder River and Rosebud Counties; and for the Clay Springs Fire in Millard County, Utah. Including the two FMAGs provided to Colorado on Wednesday, this brings the overall total number of FMAGs approved for western states during this fire season to 19. Other states that have received these important grants include New Mexico, and Nevada.
Fire Management Assistance Grants are provided through the Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:
- Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
- Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
- Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.
On average, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction. Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial response capabilities. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and reduced fire risks in the years to come.
Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with state, tribal and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise http://www.firewise.org/  and Ready Set Go! http://www.iafc.org/readySetGo  that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA's Ready.gov http://www.ready.gov , to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.