Wildland firefighters are scarce this time of the year

About one-third of the Hotshot Crews that started the season are still working

October 24, 2020   |   11:38 p.m. MDT

Interagency Hotshot Crews availability, 2020
Interagency Hotshot Crews availability, 2020. Data compiled by Area Command Team 2 September 30, 2020. Notations on the chart about the geographic areas were made by Wildfire Today.

The East Troublesome Fire near Estes Park, at this point is the second largest fire in the recorded history of Colorado. The top three all burned this year.

  1. Cameron Peak, 2020, 206,977 acres
  2. East Troublesome, 2020, 188,389 acres
  3. Pine Gulch, 2020, 139,007 acres
  4. Hayman Fire, 2002, 138,144 acres

During the wind event that is unfolding as this is being written, it is conceivable that the East Troublesome Fire could become the largest. For a fire this size, over 188,000 acres, it has a relatively small number of firefighters assigned, 424 as of Saturday morning. The nearby Cameron Peak Fire has 1,903 personnel and that fire has taken over the portion of the East Troublesome Fire east of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wildland fire resources are scarce this time of the year with many crews losing their funding in September and October. Of the 113 Interagency Hotshot Crews in the U.S., only about 35 are still funded and available for fighting fire. In two weeks that number drops to around 13 according to projections in a planning document compiled September 30, 2020 by an Area Command Team (ACT).

The functions of Scott Jalbert’s ACT that is in Colorado now is to provide decision support to Multi-Agency Coordination Groups for allocating scarce resources and help mitigate the span of control for the local Agency Administrator. They also ensure that incidents are properly managed, coordinate team transitions, and evaluate Incident Management Teams.

The western fire season is long from being over. Red Flag Warnings are in effect on Saturday or Sunday in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and California. Weather forecasters expect winds could reach 100 mph in some exposed areas in California’s North Bay and East Bay on Sunday, while other nearby locations could see winds up to 40 mph.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

18 thoughts on “Wildland firefighters are scarce this time of the year”

    1. That’s not a Forest Service regulation. The 1039 hrs. for seasonals comes from the Office of Personnel Management and applies to all the land management agencies.

    2. Oh yeah they really just need to squeeze their hotshot crews for everything they’re worth and still not give seasonals benefits. Force them to work 10 months out of the year and still don’t give them any time off. It’s cool man. We don’t need a social life or to see our families, just give it all up for the agency that treats us like dirt. Get real.

  1. I am very distressed to read about the lack of funding for the hot shot crews. For such dedicated men and women giving up their personal lives to save our precious land they deserve more. I will contacting my
    legislators to get to work.

  2. The Forest Service policies are too old for today’s climate ! Most were adopted decades ago when fire seasons were much shorter. From hiring, to funding length for the summer, to pay scales , to not even calling their people fire fighters, they are classified as FOREST TECHS ! Come on FS management, get your heads out of your asses and get with the program ! And You Congress members, quit worrying about RE-ELECTIONS AND DO YOUR DAMN JOBS TODAY !
    If you don’t like my comments, backed by more than 33 yrs of wildland Fire experience, (including having been a member of WLFLC, wildland Fire leadership council), oh well TS !

  3. Forest Service has put an exemption in place for 1039s and PSE’s to keep working longer if they do want to without impacts to start dates next year. Most crews are over it and over worked for the 6 months they are on. Don’t think the fix is necessarily keeping IHCs working year around (hence all the mental illness, lost family time, burnout, etc. that everyone keeps talking about). Nationally they need to do a better job at staggered IHC availability periods since we have fire years and not fire seasons anymore.

    1. Well Jim

      I love your comments because the general public does not understand what is going on.

      As for the shot crews we ask them to do amazing acts of skill day in and out and now we want more from them.

      Everyone in fed fire service is underpaid, tired and sore. This is my 20 th season made it to gs 9 and want see my kids in august for once.

      The struggle is real !

  4. This is unacceptable and is not the first time this has happened. And is something fire managers have been aware of for a long time.
    In 2000 the superintendent of the Helena IHC (I can’t remember his name) gave a presentation to all of the Regional Fire Directors and GACC Managers concerning this very issue. He also provided an out-line as to IHC staffing that would have staggered crew start and end dates, with crews coming on in February and ending earlier and others coming on later but being available until December.
    Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) no follow up was done with this.

  5. Since Congress wants to push a trillion or so dollars into the national economy. How about a National Fire Fighting Service? If the fires are under control, there’s plenty of mitigation work to do.

    1. The FS has taken money from fire programs and hotshot crews for many years. Wildland fire response in the USA is a wreck/ needs to be completely revamped/ too much duplications and low wages. Get a leader who knows the job and has been in the trenches.

  6. Antiquated policies are finally coming to a head. It’s humorous watching the politicians and USFS leadership backpedaling because THEY dropped the ball. You treat your employees like garbage, you get garbage.

  7. I agree the 1039 restriction as well as the overall disrepect of the forest and range tech positions from the hiring agencies, combined with lack of adeqate funding from congress has finally reached critical mass.
    Wildland fire suppression going to cost many billions every year from now until the foreseeable future.
    They need to reclassify all these employees, not just the “elite hotshots” as DOI and USDA wildland firefighters. Engine and helitack crews are just as “elite” as any handcrew and suppess more fire. Fact.
    These firefighters need to be hired on, at the minimum, as permanant seasonal, with salaries allocated yearly budgets. Then allowed to work as long as needed. This will also help complete the desparately needed fuels treatment work in the off season.
    As long as the tech positions are considered second-class citizens in the USFS and BLM, the public will pay the price in a much more precious and personal way than they would by simply paying them as they deserve to be, as invaluable federal employees.

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