Mexico and U.S. working together on wildfire

This year the U.S. and Mexico celebrated their 200th year of diplomatic relations, and for almost 25 years now the two countries have worked together in information-sharing and wildfire management. The U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Commission of Mexico (Comisión Nacional Forestal, or CONAFOR) work with similar wildland fire challenges and a shared approach in the Incident Command System.

CONAFORThis collaboration has its roots back in 1998, when Mexico suffered through its worst fire season on record and was mounting a massive response to try to contain environmental damage and community threat. According to a recent feature story by the Forest Service’s International Programs, smoke from the 1998 Mexico fires caused serious air quality deterioration across hundreds of miles from Veracruz north to the Gulf States along the U.S. border.

The USFS sent literally tons of equipment, personnel, and other resources to Mexico, initiating what’s become a longstanding knowledge-sharing exchange. U.S. firefighters began then to regularly travel to Mexico to teach ICS principles and operations and to share resources, and Mexican firefighters started traveling here to help fight fires and add skills alongside U.S. firefighters.

Eduardo Cruz with USFS fire people
Eduardo Cruz with USFS Region 5 fire people
photo courtesy CONAFOR

Eduardo Cruz traveled from Mexico to the Sequoia National Forest soon after the 1998 fires. He worked on a helitack crew in California and launched longtime international friendships; Cruz is now the fire management director of CONAFOR. During 2020’s brutal R5 season, he brought five crews of Mexican firefighters to California to work on fires — the first time that Mexico had sent an entire delegation of firefighters to support U.S. efforts.

CNN reported back in September 2020 that the Mexican crews brought to California by Eduardo Cruz worked on the Sequoia Complex, which at the time had burned more than 144,000 acres and was just 35 percent contained. “Fires do not have borders, fires do not have different languages and cultures,” Cruz told CNN. “In the end we all speak the same language when it comes to fighting fire.”

The Forest Service has a 2020 photo album online [HERE].

An archived story from WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER Magazine about the 1998 fires in Mexico is online [HERE]. (NOTE that it’s on the website and most of the old links on that page are no longer functional.)