As we move into the fall months Federal fire officials at the national level are expressing concerns about how students leaving and tours of duty ending will affect the availability of firefighting resources. Today September 16 there are over 31,000 personnel nationwide working on wildfires. That is an extremely high number that has not been reached often and will be difficult to maintain if the present rate of wildfire activity continues.
In August when all hands should have been on deck, there were, and still are, severe shortages of engines and hand crews. Many fires organizations have been trying to suppress fires larger than 10,000 acres with about 20 percent of the resources they would normally have on a similar fire, back in the old days of, say 2019. Incident Management Teams were also in short supply. A Type 2 Incident Management Team from the eastern United States was assigned to a large, very complex fire threatening thousands of homes in southern California. (They may have done a great job, but it was unusual.)
As a step toward confronting the problem, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group issued a memo dated September 15 suggesting some strategies to mitigate an even worse possible shortage of firefighters in the coming weeks and months.
It is a lengthy letter, but here is a very condensed version of some of their suggestions for local units:
- Hunt for additional funds to extend employees’ tours of duty.
- As students leave for school, combine hand crews and engine crews to fill empty spots.
- Many Incident Management Teams disband for the season; combine what’s left from multiple teams.
- As contract periods for aircraft used by smokejumpers and helicopters end, assemble the jumpers and helitack personnel into hand crews, fire suppression modules, or have them be available for single resource assignments.
The memo had a list of attachments which were not available to Wildfire Today that appear to offer temporary exceptions to regulations about time and employment limits. We were not able find any information about additional funding.