Natural disasters have grabbed the headlines in recent weeks, particularly the havoc wreaked by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Equally devastating have been the recent forest fires in the western states.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, nearly 8.5 million acres of land in the United States has burned since the beginning of the year. While wildland fire activity continues to decrease throughout the country, large fires are still being reported in California, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.
As in previous summers, nearly half of the Potosi Ranger Station employees traveled to help in the national firefighting effort. A typical fire assignment is 14 days at the incident, sometimes up to 21 days, either at the command post, base camp, or on the fireline. All of the Potosi employees were sent to Idaho, Montana, or Oregon, with a couple employees taking on two and even three separate assignments.
One crew took the Potosi fire engine to Miles City, Montana, in early July, to help the Bureau of Land Management. Three crews rotated in and out of Miles City and finally brought the engine back in mid-September. Some employees were assigned individual tasks, such as a security officer to protect fire camps, a dispatcher who helped secure crews and supplies, a finance manager to help process payments or firefighter timesheets, and a safety officer who identified potential dangers to those battling the fires.
Preparations for a potentially active fire season on Mark Twain National Forest are being made. Equipment has been ordered, the fire engines and bulldozers are getting much needed maintenance, and firefighters are preparing for the fall physical fitness test. A wildland firefighter who participates in fire suppression activities must pass the work capacity test, which involves walking three miles in 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound pack.
The Mark Twain National Forest fire staff grew over the summer as a result of new hires. Kevin Wilson, stationed in Salem, has been appointed the Fire Management Officer for the Potosi-Fredericktown and Salem ranger districts. He is bringing years of experience gained in California, Indiana, and Michigan. Joining him as the Assistant Fire Management Officer for Operations is Jacob Birdsell. Jake spent several years as a squad boss on the elite San Juan Interagency Hotshot Crew, stationed in Durango, Colorado.
New to the Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District is a three-person engine crew that will be used for initial and extended attack fire suppression, support of prescribed fires, patrolling, and project work. The crew will often perform mobile attack with the fire engine, hose lay, construction of fireline with hand tools, burnout operations, and mopping up hotspots.
The Potosi crew is led by Engine Captain Wesley Crider, who grew up in Shannon County, Missouri. Amanda Charron is serving as the Assistant Engine Captain for the next four months until the position can be filled permanently. When not with the Potosi crew, she is a firefighter for the Salem Ranger District. Neil Leifker is the engine crew’s senior firefighter, who most recently was working in Arizona as a seasonal firefighter.
As the heart of the fall season approaches and leaf fall begins, take care with fire when cleaning gardens and yards, or enjoying a warming campfire in the woods. The U. S. Drought Monitor shows those counties encompassing the Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District are currently in the abnormally dry category (St. Francois, Madison, and southeast Iron) or moderate drought category (Crawford, Washington, and northwest Iron).
Mark Twain National Forest is managed to restore Missouri’s natural communities and maintain a healthy, working forest. Follow us on twitter @marktwain_nf, and like us on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/marktwainnationalforest.