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.
This 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 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 archive.org website and most of the old links on that page are no longer functional.)
During his annual southward migration, Steve Holder encountered a line of engines and ambulances at the US/Mexico border:
On the drive into Mexico today we stopped for our visitor visa and saw this long line of engines and ambulances. The Rotary Club from Grand Prairie, Alberta is taking them to Mazatlan where they will be distributed to areas of greatest need. These rigs are packed with lots of fire gear. Bunch of great Canadians doing good things- they seemed to be having fun!
About this time 10 years ago the Martin Mars, the 747, and two MAFFS air tankers assisted firefighters in Mexico.
One of the DC-10 air tankers, T-912, has started a contract with the state of Coahuila to assist firefighters battling a fire 20 miles southwest of Monterrey in Mexico. Today was its first day of operations but when we spoke to John Gould, President of 10 Tanker at 2:45 p.m. CDT today March 28, the aircraft was on the ground waiting for an improvement in the weather.
They are working and reloading out of the airport in Laredo, Texas about 160 miles northeast of the fire.
The fire they will be dropping retardant on initially is just west of the Coahuila/Nuevo León state line. According to heat detected by satellites it appears to be several thousand acres, while a fire about 4 miles to the east in Nuevo León looks to be more than 22,000 acres. Both fires are near Highway 20.
“Beautiful country there,” Mr. Gould told Fire Aviation. “Very steep and challenging country for fighting fire. The state of Coahuila is providing the aerial supervision aircraft and we have put one of our pilots with lead plane and Air Tactical Group Supervisor experience in the right seat.”