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Oregon crews aid with Alaska wildfires as fiery summer goes on

by Jamie Parfitt, KDRV-TV (Medford, Ore.) |

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Fire season has had a relatively slow start in Oregon this year thanks to "favorable" conditions, but the state of Alaska has not been so lucky.

As a result, forestry crews that were busy containing wildfires close to home by this time in 2018 have taken their talents north, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"ODF leadership selected personnel from areas where current conditions and available resources allow for the opportunity to send help to our Alaskan partners while ensuring capacity to respond to any local fires on the home front," the agency said in a statement.

Both Oregon and Alaska are members of the Northwest Compact, an alliance between state and national forestry agencies for quickly sharing resources across both state and international lines. Just last year, crews from Alaska helped ODF fight the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires that threatened homes in Josephine and Curry counties.

The Northwest Compact consists of five states – Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. It also includes the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

There are currently 28 ODF firefighters in Alaska — 20 initial attack crew members and eight "overhead," or administrative roles. They don't intend to be there longer than the standard, 14-day assignment. Some of them will be headed home by next week.

According to ODF, the Alaska deployment offers "unique firefighting challenges and training opportunities" — including working in permafrost, avoiding "conflicts with local wildlife," and the frequent use of helicopters to reach remote fire camps.

"While this experience may differ from typical fires in Oregon, the objective is familiar for ODF crews: safely put fires out while they are small," the agency said.

ODF usually tries to keep fires under the size of 10 acres, the agency said, and the focus on initial attack has been similar in their Alaskan campaign.

“These ODF crews were selected from across the state for their skill and experience with initial attack, as well as the availability and conditions back home. Our folks are not assigned to a large fire up here, but are relieving exhausted personnel engaged in continuing efforts to catch new fire starts while they are small," said ODF’s Jamie Paul, serving as the agency representative for ODF resources in Alaska.

"As part of Oregon’s complete and coordinated system, and the Northwest Compact, this is what ODF is all about,” Paul said. “We are happy the timing allows us to assist our interagency Alaskan partners in their time of need.”