The Iowa DNR Fire Program has a new group trained and ready to fight wildfires across the country.
Spokesman Ryan Schlater says there are some differences between fighting structure fires and wildfires. “Weather kind of plays a bigger role in wildland firefighting than in your typical structure fire. Rh, temperature, wind, and then of course, terrain as well. There’s a lot more terrain issues with fire running uphill,” he says. “There’s a lot of safety information that comes through the training that all these 35 people get.”
Those who complete the training are emergency hire, part-time firefighters when the U.S. Forest Service calls on them. “Some of them are volunteer fire departments, some are full-time structure departments, some are students, some work for county conservation boards, others are just private individuals, who do you know, other jobs. A lot of them take vacations to do this, to go out on wildfires for us,” according to Schlater.
He says they had been averaging 50 people a year in the program, but it dropped off during the pandemic and is now coming back. Schlater says one of the goals is to provide new recruits for the permanent fire crews. “We’ve had several who have left the state and gone on to full-time careers, you know with, with hot shots with engine crews on forests, the BLM out west, the Bureau of Land Management, I should say, and then other agencies, National Park Service, etc. So, yeah, it’s kind of a goal of ours to get people into the career field, eventually,” Schlater says.
He says the alert status is a little higher right now for the Iowa-trained firefighters as many of the full-timers are working up north. “A lot of federal partners within the Forest Service, the National Park Service, etcetera. They went to Canada to fight the Canadian wildfires that are up there,” he says. “You know, you’ll get that smoke here in Iowa a few days ago from those Canada wildfires coming down. And so they asked for help up there.” He says emergency hire firefighters aren’t able to go to Canada.
Schlater says the wildfire season has started out slow this spring after record amounts of snow and precipitation out west. “Like California, for example had a lot of rain recently and so they’ve got a flush of water and flush of new growth,” Schlater says. “But the thing is that it seems to be cyclical. So right now the grass is growing big or it’s going to be growing big and then later on in the the summer it will dry out and so then there’s more fuel available for a wildfire later.”
The Iowa DNR Fire Program has been sending wildland firefighters to national incidents since 2006.