What is in this article?:
- Western wildfires get concerted federal response
- The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and FEMA continue to ramp up efforts to protect life, public safety and aid in community recovery.
The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and FEMA continue to ramp up efforts to protect life, public safety and aid in community recovery. On Friday, President Obama approved a disaster declaration for Colorado providing additional support to state and local officials responding to the fires, as well as federal assistance for individuals affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. President Obama also traveled to Colorado to view the damage, meet with state and local officials and thank the responders bravely battling the fires in Colorado and other western states.
The Forest Service has mobilized all eight Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS). The airtankers are assisting with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Currently they are based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with the four MAFFS that have already been mobilized. On Monday, four of the MAFFS will be relocated and will begin to operate from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s base in Cheyenne, Wyo. To date, the MAFFS aircraft have conducted 83 sorties, 73 air drops and dropped 190,000 gallons of retardant in the Rocky Mountain Region.
This total of eight MAFFs is in addition to the nineteen airtankers currently available nationally to combat fires. More than 12,000 personnel, more than 700 fire engines and more than 120 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the U.S., supporting state and local efforts.
As part of heightened efforts, on Friday the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior began training an Army battalion at Fort Carson, located near Colorado Springs, Colo., to potentially serve as ground firefighters to boost the number of firefighters available for wildfire suppression throughout the nation. The training involves one day of classroom training and two days of field training. During the classroom training, soldiers learn about wildfire suppression including fire behavior and fireline safety. During field training, soldiers will receive instruction in fire suppression methods and procedures. This effort will ensure there are additional resources available should the U.S. Forest Service require them.
Since the beginning of the Waldo Canyon fire, Fort Carson units and services have committed more than 120 soldiers, 10 bulldozers and other equipment and resources to provide assistance to ongoing fire containment operations and interagency support to the Greater Colorado Springs community.
Firefighters, in the face of adverse weather and difficult terrain, continue to combat the Waldo Canyon fire and more than 1,500 federal, state and local firefighters, over 90 fire engines and 11 helicopters are fighting the fire today in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs.
To ensure that all military resources brought to bear to support Forest Service efforts are fully coordinated and leveraged most affectively across DOD, on Friday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced he had selected a Dual-Status Commander, in agreement with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, to support wildfire response and relief efforts in Colorado. Air Force Col. Peter J. Byrne, a Colorado resident and Citizen-Airman - Director of the Joint Staff, Joint Force Headquarters-Colorado - was appointed Dual-Status Commander (T10 and T32) and will work with fire incident commanders.
Joint Federal, state and local damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated as part of the disaster declaration after the assessments are fully completed.
The major disaster declaration for Colorado, approved by President Obama early Friday morning, makes federal funding available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. Federal funding is also available for Crisis Counseling and Disaster Unemployment Assistance for affected individuals in El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.