Not enough firefighters available for the 70,000 acres burning in the Twisp, Washington area

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The Twisp River fire that killed the three firefighters and injured four others on Wednesday started earlier that day about six miles northwest of Twisp, Washington. Pushed by a strong northwest wind, it quickly approached the town which was under an evacuation order along with the city of Winthrop. Thursday morning it is listed at 16,000 acres.

As you can see on the map above, that is not the only fire in the area. Within 10 to 40 miles to the east an additional 54,000 acres are on fire. The Okanogan Complex of fires closed in on the community of Riverside north of Omak on Highway 20 Wednesday requiring the complete evacuation of the town. That complex, comprised of at least 10 fires, some of which have merged, is listed at 54,000 acres but could be significantly larger after the fire activity late in the day on Wednesday. Fire managers report that “there is still a shortage of qualified resources”, but that may be partially mitigated since the priority of the incident was recently upgraded.

There are so many fires burning in the west now that there are not enough resources nationwide to suppress them. On some fires very little is being done to slow them down since they don’t have the needed amount of firefighters, incident management teams, caterers, shower units, dozers, fire engines, Type 1 Hotshot crews…. the list goes on.

Part of the problem is that between 2011 and 2015 there was a 17 percent reduction in the number of federal wildland firefighters, according to testimony by Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, in hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.

Today there are 93 uncontained large fires in the United States and 46 incident management teams are assigned. Two area command teams (ACT) are deployed according to the National Situation Report. The ACT page indicates that all three teams are deployed. This year the number of ACTs was reduced from four to three. Right now there is probably a need for six to twelve.

In May, 2015 a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service explained the rational for the reduction:

Based on analysis of Area Command Team use over the past 15 years, it was determined that 3 Teams were adequate.

An ACT may be used to oversee the management of large incidents or those to which multiple Incident Management Teams have been assigned. They can take some of the workload off the local administrative unit when they have multiple incidents going at the same time. Your typical Forest or Park is not usually staffed to supervise two or more Incident Management Teams fighting fire in their area. An ACT can provide decision support to Multi-Agency Coordination Groups for allocating scarce resources and help mitigate the span of control for the local Agency Administrator. They also ensure that incidents are properly managed, coordinate team transitions, and evaluate Incident Management Teams.Today there are 593 hand crews and 29,506 total personnel committed to fires.


Posted on August 20, 2015 by Bill Gabbert from Wildlandfire Today

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