Cooperative wildfire efforts pay great dividends

The lingering snow from the winter of 2013-14 and cool, wet weather this spring and summer have spared the Upper Peninsula from a major wildfire season, but it’s a much different story in the West.

Severe drought and the lack of precipitation this year in several western states have spawned wildfires that have consumed thousands of acres, and taxed agencies involved in firefighting to the max.

To assist with the continuing wildfire problems in the West, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently sent 31 firefighters to help battle the blazes.

Among them are 11 DNR firefighters from the U.P., including ones who worked out of Marquette, Escanaba, Baraga, Newberry, Shingleton and Sault Ste. Marie.

The firefighters will assist with wildfire control efforts in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington, with 20 DNR employees serving with initial fire-line attack crews and 11 carrying out fire-line leadership duties at several wildfires in the Northwest.

DNR fire section manager Paul Kollmeyer said these types of cooperative efforts involving firefighters from various states and federal agencies are especially important during wildfire emergencies, such as those this summer in the West.

That same type of cooperation greatly benefited Michigan during the 18,000-acre Sleeper Lake Fire in 2007 and the 21,000-acre Duck Lake Fire in 2012, with both wildfires occurring in Luce County. Several states and the feds sent dozens of firefighters to help battle those wildfires.

In addition to working together to be more efficient and to more wisely use available resources, cooperative firefighting efforts can serve in a continuing education capacity for firefighters in areas where wildfires are not as common, such as in the U.P. this year.

The assistance doesn’t drain financial resources of the agency that sends its employees, either, with all costs associated with the effort reimbursed under a national cooperative agreement involving the states and federal government.

DNR officials said Michigan will continue to provide personnel to assist with national wildfire efforts as long as the fire danger remains critical. That could be a while, too, because as of Tuesday afternoon there were nine large uncontrolled fires burning with 129 additional fires igniting on Monday.