Images from the front lines of Australia’s bushfires
Until two to three weeks ago most of the bushfire activity in Australia was concentrated in New South Wales, but in January firefighters further south in Victoria became increasingly busy.
Most of these photos (except as noted) were posted on the Twitter account of Chris Hardman, the Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria.
One thing to keep in mind is that when wildland firefighters are actively working to contain a fire they usually do not have time to pull out a camera or smart phone and take pictures. So most of what you see from the front lines are from when they are taking a well-deserved break.
About the next three photos, Chief Hardman wrote:
Driving greater female participation in fire fighting and fire mgt, has paid off, our women are Sector Commanders, Div Coms, Crew Leaders, General FIre Fighters, Dozer Operators, Fallers, IMTs and Air Ops. They are an inspiration to others.
Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges are supported by TNC, USFS, and DOI
Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (WTREX) holds 12-day training sessions to help women advance their formal qualifications in wildland fire management. The goal is to enhance their understanding of fire ecology, fire effects, communications, outreach, prescribed fire policy, and planning. At least three sessions have occurred, in Florida and California.
When the U.S. fire management system was conceived in the early 1900s, women’s roles in the workforce were much different than they are now. Even today, women constitute a relatively small proportion of the workforce, filling roughly 10 percent of wildland fire positions and only 7 in 100 leadership roles. In recent years, there has been an increased effort to recruit women into fire, yet social and cultural challenges remain. New recruits often find the dominant fire management system to be dismissive of female perspectives and strengths, even as its increasing complexity requires fresh approaches and insights.
WTREX is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resilience and Fire Adapted Communities Together, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Students came from all over the country for this year’s BLM’s all-female wildfire camp in eastern Oregon.
For the class final, the all-female crew of wildfire students dug fire line, rolled hose, and burned slash piles in the eastern Oregon snow.
The live burn exercise was the climax of the second annual Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp, a BLM recruitment and retention tool that organizers hope will add diversity to the applicant pool for wildfire jobs.
The boot camp is really a paid training opportunity, part classroom and part field work, for women to become certified for federal fire jobs, an industry long dominated by men.
“I think we’re acknowledging we need to add diversity to our workforce,” said Jeff Fedrizzi, the top BLM fire official for Oregon and Washington, “And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Twenty women attended last year and more than half of that first class ended up getting a job in firefighting, said Cassandra Andrews-Fleckenstein, the BLM program manager for the camp. This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp, once again coming from across the country. Students slept outside in 10-degree weather, used portable toilets, and wore the classic wildland firefighter uniform of yellow shirt and green pants, just like any other fire camp.
Kathleen Mascarenas, who is studying forestry and fire science at Colorado State University, said she came to the Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp to get her foot in the door for a future job.
“I really just wanted to get a hands-on experience,” said Mascarenas, as a controlled burn crackled behind her last month. “I thought it would be a great experience to get started and meet some of the women that I would be hopefully working with in the future,” she said.
One of the attendees from Oregon, Kelli Creekmore, said she recently got her emergency medical technician license and is hoping to get a job providing first aid to wildland firefighters.
In addition to the typical fire coursework, students also received special presentations, for example, what it is like to be pregnant during a wildfire pack test, and how to successfully apply via USAJobs.gov.
Since many of the camp attendees are coming in with advanced education and other valuable prerequisites, it is imperative that they become fluent in the federal hiring process, said camp manager Andrews-Fleckenstein.
“They are frustrated because they don’t really know how to get into these fire jobs,” said Andrews-Fleckenstein, listing the main gripe she heard from students at the camp. “I’m finding that this camp is kind of a bridge for them.”
Bob Narus, the fire manager for the BLM’s Vale District, an area that spans more than 5 million acres in eastern Oregon, said simply making more applicants aware that the BLM is an option for firefighting jobs is important.
“I think there’s value in having these women in wildfire camps, so more people can become aware that, ‘Hey, I can go fight fire with the BLM also, not just the Forest Service,’” said Narus.
While camp attendees are compensated for their time, they are not reimbursed for their travel to and from rural eastern Oregon. Last year, one student flew round-trip from Chicago between university midterms to attend the boot camp, said Andrews-Fleckenstein, noting the clear and unique value of the all-female BLM fire camp.
“I think if we had more of them across the country, or offered a couple more, you might get a lot of people coming into it,” she said.
Story and photos by Samantha Storms, Public Information Officer, Alaska Fire Service.
With more than 200 fires burning in mid-July in Alaska, the 2019 BLM Women’s Fire Crew received their first ever wildland fire assignment.
Traveling by plane, helicopter and boat, this eight woman crew headed to the Hadweenzic River Fire in the Upper Yukon of eastern Alaska with eager smiles.
BLM Wyoming and the Montana Conservation Corps, or MCC, started this crew in 2016, training women to be wildland firefighters. This program is a wonderful opportunity to introduce these young women to the world of wildland firefighting.
Looking back at the 2018 season, 11 of 12 crew members are still working in wildland fire jobs and the other started her career working for MCC. Through this partnership, all crew members are qualified chainsaw operators and when they are not on the fireline, they are working with BLM Wyoming on public lands restoration projects.
Simultaneously live streamed from both Sydney and Albuquerque
One of the more interesting events at the International Association of Wildland Fire’s (IAWF) Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference this week was that some speakers were being live streamed from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sydney, Australia; and Marseille, France. At times presenters were contributing to one event simultaneously from two continents.
An example was the joint panel discussion live streamed from Albuquerque and Sydney Wednesday afternoon. Each site had three or four panelists discussing A Life and a Career in Fire, from a woman’s viewpoint.
The panelists talked about how a woman’s career in a male-dominated work force can be different from a man’s, the challenges they faced, and how they reacted or dealt with the issues.
One notable comment was from Deanne Shulman, the first female smokejumper, now retired. She referred to Michelle Obama’s method for handling down in the dirt political campaigning, “When they go low, we go high”. Ms. Shulman said her tactic when harassed by males was somewhat different, “When they go low, I go lower.” Then she laughed.
The IAWF deserves a commendation for working out the logistics, electronics, and timing on both continents. In a previous life one of my duties was to arrange two-hour conference calls with participants in the US, Europe, and Australia. Choosing a time often meant some participants had to call in early in the morning or late at night.