The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and FEMA continue to ramp up efforts to protect life, public safety and aid in community recovery. On Friday, President Obama approved a disaster declaration for Colorado providing additional support to state and local officials responding to the fires, as well as federal assistance for individuals affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. President Obama also traveled to Colorado to view the damage, meet with state and local officials and thank the responders bravely battling the fires in Colorado and other western states.
The Forest Service has mobilized all eight Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS). The airtankers are assisting with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Currently they are based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with the four MAFFS that have already been mobilized. On Monday, four of the MAFFS will be relocated and will begin to operate from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s base in Cheyenne, Wyo. To date, the MAFFS aircraft have conducted 83 sorties, 73 air drops and dropped 190,000 gallons of retardant in the Rocky Mountain Region.
This total of eight MAFFs is in addition to the nineteen airtankers currently available nationally to combat fires. More than 12,000 personnel, more than 700 fire engines and more than 120 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the U.S., supporting state and local efforts.
As part of heightened efforts, on Friday the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior began training an Army battalion at Fort Carson, located near Colorado Springs, Colo., to potentially serve as ground firefighters to boost the number of firefighters available for wildfire suppression throughout the nation. The training involves one day of classroom training and two days of field training. During the classroom training, soldiers learn about wildfire suppression including fire behavior and fireline safety. During field training, soldiers will receive instruction in fire suppression methods and procedures. This effort will ensure there are additional resources available should the U.S. Forest Service require them.
Since the beginning of the Waldo Canyon fire, Fort Carson units and services have committed more than 120 soldiers, 10 bulldozers and other equipment and resources to provide assistance to ongoing fire containment operations and interagency support to the Greater Colorado Springs community.
Firefighters, in the face of adverse weather and difficult terrain, continue to combat the Waldo Canyon fire and more than 1,500 federal, state and local firefighters, over 90 fire engines and 11 helicopters are fighting the fire today in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs.
To ensure that all military resources brought to bear to support Forest Service efforts are fully coordinated and leveraged most affectively across DOD, on Friday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced he had selected a Dual-Status Commander, in agreement with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, to support wildfire response and relief efforts in Colorado. Air Force Col. Peter J. Byrne, a Colorado resident and Citizen-Airman - Director of the Joint Staff, Joint Force Headquarters-Colorado - was appointed Dual-Status Commander (T10 and T32) and will work with fire incident commanders.
Joint Federal, state and local damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated as part of the disaster declaration after the assessments are fully completed.
The major disaster declaration for Colorado, approved by President Obama early Friday morning, makes federal funding available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. Federal funding is also available for Crisis Counseling and Disaster Unemployment Assistance for affected individuals in El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved two additional Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) for the Rosecrest Fire in Salt Lake County, Utah; for the Arapaho Fire in Albany County, Wyoming. This brings the overall total number of FMAGs approved for western states during this fire season to 21. Other states that have received these important grants include Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Nevada.
FMAGs are provided through the Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.
Overall, federal partners have deployed 22 Incident Management Teams (IMT), including six Type 1 IMTs, to help provide a coordinated and aggressive response to wildfires across the country. These teams have been strategically assigned to highly complex wildfires such as, the Flagstaff Fire near Boulder, Colorado, the Dahl and Ash Creek fires in Montana, the Seeley and Fontenelle Fires in Utah, the Neighbor Mountain Fire in Virginia, and others.
To further address the severity of current wildland fire activity across the western states, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have directed federal land managers to take additional measures to help reduce the risks of new wildfires, ensure the highest possible level of coordination among federal land management agencies, and continue to prioritize safety for firefighters and communities. Additional measures include prohibiting new prescribed fires in geographic areas where Preparedness Level is at 4 or 5 – which currently includes the Rocky Mountain Area, Eastern Great Basin Area, and Southwest Area – and requiring regional or state level approval to initiate any new prescribed fire in all other geographic areas. These measures will remain in effect until the National Multi-Agency Coordinating group determines a national Preparedness Level 3 or below. On June 27th, NMAC raised the preparedness level to 4, on a scale of 1-5.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:
- Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest and rangeland restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
- Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
- Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.
On average, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction. Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial response capabilities. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and reduced fire risks in the years to come.