You could call it returning a favor. Every summer fire crews from around the country travel to the western US to help fight wildfires. Now, no thanks to a record warm and dry fall, the southeastern US is dealing with damaging wildfires and firefighters from Idaho are lending a helping hand.
“We’ve probably sent around 50 people out there in the past month,” said Jared Fischer, an interagency fire dispatcher from Idaho Falls. “Currently there’s probably about 10 people out there. Then we have four federal fire engines and then one Madison county fire engine.” Fischer said with many of the seasonal workers out for the winter, fire crews in the southern states had to call in help from all over the country. Many of the western fire fighters provide expertise and experience, and are used all over the region. “They get out there and they’re just put where they need to be,” said Fischer. One thing that’s different compared to western wildfires is the type of conditions and foliage that firefighters are dealing with. “Primarily the forests out here (in the southeastern US) are composed of hardwood trees,” said Tara Kurtzbein from Salmon. “As opposed to our rangeland types mixed with juniper. Often times our forests are coniferous, more the evergreen, pine, and spruce.” Kurtzbein said the different types of trees means there’s a lot more leaf debris and brush to deal with. She said many of the fire crews are given leaf blowers instead of shovels and axes to create fire lines. “They’re really effective in removing that leaf layer off the ground. And it gets you a very reasonable fire line in a quick amount of time,” said Kurtzbein. Another problem back east is that wildfires aren’t typically a hazard. Unlike the west, many homes don’t have defensible space. Many of the homes have trees that go right up to their foundation. This makes it difficult for firefighters to protect the structure. One thing that is helping firefighters is the weather forecast. Parts of the south are supposed to get up to two inches of rain. Kurtzbein said she and her crew are planning to stay for at least a week, possibly more, depending on how much rain the region gets.