news and events » related news

Related News Header

Related News Item

return to Related News

State looking for new ways to fight forest fires

by Website |

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Fewer National Guard soldiers are available to fight forest fires this summer, so the state is looking for new ways to do the work.

South Dakota generally depends on Guard soldiers when big fires break out. But this year as much as 60 percent of the South Dakota National Guard has been deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and other locations.

Joe Lowe, head of the state Division of Wildland Fire Suppression, said he will replace some of the Guard members with a volunteer corps of people who have been trained for jobs away from the fire line.

They'll handle supplies or assist with communications, he said.

Also, a Rapid City doctor has volunteered to provide medical services in fire camps.

The first class of 25 volunteers will get basic fire safety training in April. They will also be issued fire gear and individual fire shelters, but Lowe said they will be nowhere near fire lines.

Lowe filled the first training class mainly with local service club members and people from the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol.

The state also will get help from the Department of Transportation, which will provide heavy equipment for use during fires. Some DOT heavy-equipment operators also will get fire training.

Lowe said the state will have less equipment this year. Last summer, his department had seven Blackhawk helicopters at its disposal. This summer there will be three - but he said he never has requested more than three at a time for firefighting.

Helicopters can dump water from buckets suspended on cables. This year, the Guard will have two new, 440-gallon buckets equipped with pumps, which means they can draw from shallow water.

The state will continue to hire two small fixed-wing, single-engine air tankers for quick response to fires.

Lowe's strategy is to hit fires fast, with an overwhelming and sustained response, while the fires are still small. "I was always taught, hit it hard and knock the fire out with your first response resources," he said.