More than 200 Mark Twain National Forest firefighters are working on western wildfires.
“Currently, there are about 100 Missouri state and federal firefighters on the front lines in nine states from Alaska to Wyoming,” said Mark Twain National Forest Fire Management Officer Jody Eberly.
Firefighters come from across the state and represent the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation and a few local fire departments.
Some are professional firefighters. Many are foresters, wildlife biologists, recreation specialists and other resource managers who have specialized fire training to do many jobs required to support fire suppression efforts.
“Missouri firefighters are working at 20 different wildfire incidents — building fire lines, cutting hazard trees and protecting homes,” Eberly said.
“They are also managing fire camps, overseeing food caterers, dispatching personnel and equipment, managing fleets of fire engines and support vehicles, making maps and planning the next day’s work, keeping firefighters safe and secure on the line and in camp and keeping the firefighting helicopters staffed and working,” Eberly added.
Each person who goes on assignment is expected to be out for 14 working days. They all have completed a rigorous course of training specific to the job they will be doing. They have also spent time in on-the-job training before getting certified in their individual positions.
Eberly said Missouri firefighters are ordered through a national system that starts with a need identified by an incident management team.
Orders for personnel and equipment are placed by the incident with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Those orders are filled by the closest available resources from a variety of state and federal agencies.
“When orders start showing up for Missouri firefighters at the Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center in Rolla, you know that western fire season is in full swing,” said Charlene Nazarenko, lead dispatcher for the Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center.
Missouri personnel who are trained firefighters make themselves available through their agency supervisor. In a busy year, many Missouri firefighters will make themselves available for multiple assignments throughout the summer.
Demand for Missouri firefighters usually slows once cooler temperatures arrive in the mountainous western states, normally sometime late September or early October.
Mark Twain National Forest usually has two fire seasons, one in spring, the other in fall. Besides 40,000 to 60,000 acres annually of prescribed fires that are set to meet land management goals, the forest also has an average of 175 wildfires burning about 5,145 acres annually.
“Summers in Missouri are typically hot and humid, with only one to two small summer fires,” Eberly said, which is why Missouri firefighting staff can help in other parts of the country.
Page 2 of 2 - “Assisting other states to put out their fires benefits Missouri, too,” Eberly said. “Each assignment helps give Missouri firefighters experience with different fuels, terrain and weather systems. This helps them better understand wildfire behavior so they are able to fight fire more effectively back home.”