More than a dozen Iowans are helping to fight wildfires in three other states this month as part of a nationwide partnership program.
Ryan Schlater, a fire specialist with the Iowa DNR, says six Iowans are rotating in groups of three to west Texas, where the Dempsey Fire has scorched thousands of acres of forests. Another two-person Iowa crew is fighting wildfires in Colorado.
“We have six that are in Alaska on a 20-person hand crew, which is mixed in with Missouri Department of Conservation and the Mark Twain National Forest folks,” Schlater says, “and they will be there for 21 days.”
Should a wildfire break out in Iowa this week, Schlater says there’s no cause for concern that our state is being left shorthanded while these firefighters are elsewhere. “A lot of them are county conservation board employees who may take vacation. We have very few Iowa DNR folks who actually go,” Schlater says. “We service basically any Iowa citizen who’s interested and able to go on wildfires. We get them trained. We put them through a physical fitness test, and then they’re eligible to go on national fires.”
The fire program that provides “mutual aid” between states has been sending Iowa’s wildland firefighters to national incidents since 2006, but Schlater says it’s rare other states sends crews to Iowa.
“We are very blessed in Iowa here,” he says.
“We have around 900 volunteer fire departments across the state. And if you think about it, we have a road pretty much every mile in most places, some places it may be more, but a road is a perfect firebreak. Also, we have good access to most of our lands where wildfires start.”
The Iowans on the firefighting teams go through at least 40 hours of training before their first assignment abroad, and even then, they’ll be paired up with much more experienced individuals.
“There is risk, obviously, with any fire,” Schlater says, “but we have a lot of safety measures in place that we try to adhere to and keep everyone safe and bring them home.”
Schlater says all of the slots are filled for this year’s firefighting program, but they’re already signing up volunteers for next year.
Learn more here: www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/Forestry/Fire-Management