Michigan wildlands firefighters head to California to help during holidays


DETROIT – The Michigan DNR released the following information on Dec. 20, 2017 about state firefighters heading to California to help battle wild fires: 

A team of 20 Michigan wildlands firefighters will spend two weeks in California helping in the effort to quench fires that have burned more than 270,000 acres since the beginning of December.

It includes 13 firefighters from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and seven firefighters from Michigan’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The team leaves today. It will begin its tour of duty on standby in the Sequoia National Forest, said Jim Fisher, the DNR’s fire section manager. 

“Michigan's firefighters could do a variety of things while they’re there,” Fisher said. “They could be replacing crews at fire stations, they could support fire operations, or they could be assigned to assist the local forest on project work that can’t get done while their crews are out.”

They also could be assigned to combat any portion of the fires that still are burning and would work for an Incident Management Team on a fire, Fisher said.

More than 8,000 firefighters from California and across the country have battled the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties since it was reported Dec. 4. Spread by high winds, it has burned 272,000 acres, including more than 1,000 structures, and is one of the largest wildfires on record in the state. One California firefighter was killed in the line of duty and one civilian died in a car accident while trying to evacuate. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes. Also burning is the Creek Fire, which started near Sylmar, California, Dec. 5. It has consumed nearly 16,000 acres and is expected to be contained by this weekend.

The Michigan crew going to California is an initial attack crew. It includes six DNR firefighters from the Lower Peninsula and seven from the Upper Peninsula. The crew is a mix of highly trained and experienced firefighters and crew leaders who will mentor newer, less experienced firefighters. Within the crew there are crew and squad bosses, fallers who cut down trees, and pump and water handlers who can be assigned to direct fire suppression. They’ll spend the entire holiday period in California, returning home in early January.

“They choose to go for a variety of reasons,” Fisher said. “This is the kind of work they enjoy doing, they’re helping other states and fire agencies and they gain valuable experience while they are there.”

The DNR is fully reimbursed for the expenses of sending teams out of state to fight fires. Michigan firefighters have assisted with fires across the country this year, as well as in two Canadian provinces. 

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