SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (KMTR) -- While the Oregon Department of Forestry's crews are transitioning into wildfire season right now, some firefighters are already battling blazes, but in other parts of the country.
As of June 8th, 2011 three ODF firefighters from the Eastern Lane Unit based in Springfield are in Alaska, working on a major wildfire there. The fire is burning on 19-square miles of land northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, near the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
One of the ODF Eastern Lane crew members is on a first response helicopter, in charge of dropping in on small spot fires and fighting them from the ground. A second Eastern Lane crew member is staffing a fire engine crew, and a third is overseeing all air operations on one of the major incident response teams.
Every time there's a chance to fight fires elsewhere in the United States, Eastern Lane crews say they try to take the opportunity. The trips help ODF fight Oregon's wildfires with new ideas.
“You go to Alaska, you're talking different fuel type, black spruce, and the tundra and some of those types of things. It's a huge benefit for us to have that opportunity to send people out of state to some of these other locations, and broaden their experiences and fight different fuel types,” says Greg Wagenblast, the District Forester for ODF Eastern Lane.
ODF Eastern Lane did get a recent request for a fire engine to be sent to Arizona to help battle that state's second largest wildfire in history, but that request has since been put on hold.
Statewide, ODF nearly 70 fire crew specialists in Alaska, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona filling the gaps, including a team of 50 from ODF's Salem district.
ODF Eastern Lane protects private and BLM land east of Interstate 5. With the Alaska experience, the district is also hoping to learn some new operational information, to see if it can become more efficient in operating locally.