Slow fire seasons, change in federal rules prompts drop in Alaska's emergency firefighter crews
Changes to national employment standards and slow fire seasons have contributed to a decrease in the number of emergency fire fighting crews in needed in Alaska -- a reduction of about ten crews since the start of last year's season alone.
But the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service says the smaller number of crews actually better matches the need in our state.
According to Beth Ipsen, a spokesperson for the agency, the fire season in Alaska has been slow for the last three years, and this year it's well below average.
This season, 331 fires have burned an estimated 392-thousand acres in Alaska, well below the annual average of about 1 million acres burned.
It's slow enough that the Alaska Fire Service sent a new wave of members down to the lower 48 Sunday morning to help with wildfires there. More than 100 Fire Service personnel dispatched to Idaho this weekend. According to Ipsen, there are now nearly 350 state and federal workers helping on fires in the lower 48 with more prepared to deploy if needed.
"We'll keep some smoke jumpers on hand, the Division of Forestry will keep some people on hand, in case there are new fires that pop up near a community, then we can jump on it real quick and put it out," Ipsen said by phone Sunday. "There still will be some chances for some new [fire] starts."
According to Ipsen, federal regulations now require Alaska wild land firefighters to undergo a health screening questionnaire to ensure they are healthy enough to pass a work capacity test, also known as a pack test -- which has lead to fewer applications.
"Many people struggle with the pack test of carrying 45 pounds for three miles within 45 minutes," Ipsen explained. "Each year, nationally, there are people that need medical attention during the pack test."
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