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Tennesseans Aid in Western Wildfires

Thursday, June 18, 2020 | 09:45am

NASHVILLE — Firefighters with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry deployed this week to help fight fires affecting the western United States.

Twenty highly trained forestry personnel are headed to central New Mexico to assist local wildland firefighting agencies and fire departments with initial attacks on wildland fires in that region. That crew includes incident commanders, tree fallers, and firefighters. An additional forestry staff member is deployed to Arizona to manage equipment for an incident management team assigned to the Bush Fire, currently the largest fire in the country.

While June wildland fire potential is minimal in Tennessee and across the southeast U.S., the outlook in the southwest region of the country is very different. That region anticipates greater likelihood that significant wildland fire will occur during the summer. Fire agencies are on high alert and are beginning to utilize resources from other states, including Tennessee.

“Our firefighters are exceptionally well prepared and ready to assist with wildfires across the country,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. said. “When the threat is low and we have enough resources to meet demands in Tennessee, we want to lend a hand and provide assistance to other states.”

The division’s Fire Management Unit spent the past year building capacity to send employees to out-of-state wildfires and other emergency incidents. Preparations include a perpetual cycle of acquiring, shaping, and honing knowledge and skills of employees. It is also crucial to ensure employees are fit and have the resources and supplies required to work on large incidents such as compatible handheld radios, tents, sleeping bags, and gear bags.

“There is an art and science to fighting wildland fire,” Tennessee Division of Forestry’s Fire Chief Wade Waters said. “It takes repetition and getting out to remote fires year after year to develop skills necessary to master the art of combating wildland fires. These deployments allow our staff to gain valuable experience they can ultimately utilize back here at home, while also providing help to a region in desperate need.”

The division operates within a national framework of wildland fire agencies that deploy available resources as long as four weeks at a time across the country to communities in need. Deployment requires personal sacrifice, yet the training in between Tennessee’s usual spring and fall fire seasons provides invaluable opportunities for forestry personnel.

About the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry (TDF)

As Tennessee’s lead agency in wildland fire, the division’s Fire Management Unit works to minimize damage to forest resources and personal property while giving priority to firefighter and public safety. TDF prevents and suppresses wildfires, promotes hazard reduction activities, implements beneficial prescribed fire, and supports wildland fire training for volunteer fire departments and other wildland firefighters. Additionally, TDF supports all hazard incident response at all operational levels as well as administratively through interagency coordination, governance, recovery, and qualification committees. The division shall continue development of interagency response relationships with local area fire departments, mutual aid partners, and civic leaders regarding wildland fire activity and all hazard incident management. Visit www.tn.gov/agriculture/forests for more information.