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Environment

Iowa Helping Western States Battle Wildfires

090920-california-wildfires
Noah Berger
/
AP
Firefighters monitor the Bear Fire burning in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is helping the U.S. Forest Service fight raging wildfires out west.

So far, a total of 17 Iowans have been deployed since last month to help fight wildfires in California, Colorado, Idaho and Montana. Four Iowa firefighters along with an engine and a support vehicle are currently helping battle flames in Idaho. One firefighter is assisting efforts in California.

The Iowa DNR worked with the Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center to put together a 20-person hand-crew to help in Colorado. Firefighters are typically on assignment for 14 days.

Iowa DNR Wildland Fire Supervisor Gail Kantak said with the extreme fire behavior in these states this year, it’s important that Iowa has resources to send.

“All the firefighters are trained really well,” Kantak said. “They go out and they get experience in fire behavior that they can’t get in Iowa. Not only are they helping by supporting the national fire program, but they’re also gaining experience and knowledge and skills that they couldn’t get at home.”

Kantak said they’ll bring those skills back to Iowa, which helps improve Iowa’s fire programs.

Usually firefighters would mingle a lot once they arrive at their campsite, Kantak said. But that’s been a challenge because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everybody has masks on that they may not normally have, and they have to eat in their own module groups,” Kantak said. “So there’s a whole lot less interaction.”

Wildfires are also raging in Oregon. Kantak said because Iowa has a limited number of resources available, the state hasn't been able to assist over there yet. “We'll respond when we have folks available, but right now we don't,” Kantak said.

Forty firefighters have signed up this year through the Iowa DNR Forestry – Fire Program to fight wildfires outside of Iowa. Kantak said the DNR trains them. They range from local firefighters to conservation board members to college students.