Forest Service employees fight fires out west

Published 11:55 pm Thursday, August 27, 2015


As wildfires continue to burn in several western states, staff members from the local Forest Service are lending a helping hand to fight the fires.

District Ranger Tim Mersmann said four people in total from his organization have gone to help put out the detrimental fires and another is set to leave this weekend.

“The Forest Service in Alabama currently has 35 people on assignment,” he said. “There will be an additional 10 by this weekend for a total of 45. To date, we have dispatched people on over 100 assignments.”

Locally, the Forest Service’s two wildland fire engines have also been sent out west.

“Wildland fire response is priority work for us,” he said. “We often have opportunity to send our trained and qualified people and resources out there.”

Mersmann said he tries to keep some of his capacity at home because it’s dry here locally, as well.

Randy Barefoot of the Forest Service just returned from Northern California last week and Scott Jordan is set to leave this weekend, but is unsure of his assignment location.

There are three other employees currently on assignment in Washington, Montana and California, Mersmann said.

“We worked shifts,” Barefoot said. “Usually we worked 14-16 hours and slept in a tent.”

Barefoot was on a hand crew and Jordan will also do that task.

“You use hand tools, chain saws to create a fuel line,” he said. “We had a 20-man crew.”

Barefoot said the areas he worked on are areas that dozers can get to.

They set up in fire camps.

“There they actually had people serving food,” Barefoot said. “We were set up at a fairgrounds. There were 2,400 people there.”

Barefoot said the work varied.

“There were some extremely hard times and then there was some times when we were just standing by,” he said.

Jordan said the terrain out there is very steep.

“It can take an hour or hour and a half to hike to get to the destination,” Barefoot said. “I didn’t smell fresh air for 15 days. I saw a lot of active fire. There were times it got hairy. “

Barefoot said that planes would be brought in and four Army helicopters conducted water drops.

“They were using C130s and 747s, too,” he said.

Mersmann said while the crews are helping others, the experience is also helping improve his staff’s training.

“We always like to send our folks along with a task book,” he said.

Mersmann said that Barefoot took a task book for a squad boss and advanced firefighter.

“This is very important for us to keep up our training,” he said.

Mersmann said given the need, other Forest Service agencies would help the local one if a wildfire broke out here.

“That’s why we do prescribed burns,” he said. “They are designed to help cut down on the wildfire here.”