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

A total of 17 Iowans have been deployed in the past month, working wildfires in California, Colorado, Idaho and Montana. With the extremely damaging and deadly fires in these states this year, the DNR’s state wildland fire supervisor Gail Kantak says it’s important that Iowa has resources to send.

“All the firefighters are trained really well,” Kantak says. “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 says they’ll bring those skills back to Iowa, which helps improve Iowa’s fire programs.

Firefighters would usually mingle a lot once they arrive at their campsite, but she says that’s been a challenge because of the pandemic. “Everybody has masks on that they may not normally have, and they have to eat in their own module groups,” she says, “so there’s a whole lot less interaction.” At least 40 people have signed up this year to fight wildfires outside of Iowa.

Kantak says the DNR trains the individuals, who range from local firefighters to conservation board members to college students. Currently, four Iowa firefighters along with an engine and a support vehicle are helping battle flames in Idaho, while one firefighter is assisting in California.

(By Katie Peikes, Iowa Public Radio)