Oregon sends firefighters to Alaska to help battle wildfires - and return the favor

Oregon Department of Forestry initial attack crew at work Alaska. (ODF)

SALEM, Ore. – Over 25,000 lightning strikes hit Alaska over the course of 36 hours last week, setting the state ablaze.

Meanwhile, Oregon has seen relatively light wildfire activity so far in 2019.

Time to return a favor.

In 2018, Alaska sent firefighters to help battle the Klondike and Taylor fires in Oregon.

Now the Oregon Department of Forestry responded in kind, sending personnel north of help Alaska fight fires.

State forestry officials said "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."

The two states are part of the Northwest Compact, "an agreement allowing quick and cost-effective resources sharing across state and international lines," according to state forestry.

The Northwest Compact consists of 5 U.S. states - Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana - and the 5 Canadian Provinces/Territories of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

According to ODF:

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 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 initial attack, as well as the availability and conditions back home," said Jamie Paul, the Agency Representative for ODF resources in Alaska. "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. We are happy the timing allows us to assist our interagency Alaskan partners in their time of need.”

Oregon has 28 personnel in Alaska, including 8 overhead positions - the personnel who manage the complex task of wildfire suppression - and 20 initial attack crew members.

Initial attack refers to the effort to catch and halt wildfires when they first break out - and before they have a chance to grow.

"As crews prioritize initial attack efforts and minimize the long-term impact on resources, overhead positions are helping oversee operations," ODF said in a statement. "A maximum duration of the standard 14-day assignment is expected, while some resources will head home as early as next week."

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