BLM fire official says work-rest guidelines, collaboration critical over a long fire season
As wildfire season begins in earnest across parts of the Mountain West, firefighting agencies will also be battling the tightest labor market in decades and a housing affordability crisis.
Politico reported in March that the chronically short-staffed Forest Service "faces a particularly bleak hiring picture, even as it looks to add an untold number of forest management staff."
Part of the problem is that destructive fires are occurring in winter – like the late December blaze outside Boulder, Colo.
But Jennifer Myslivy, a Bureau of Land Management spokesperson at the National Interagency Fire Center, doesn't expect staffing to be an issue. She says that while fire seasons are becoming "fire years," the real focus is juggling and balancing the teams’ schedules.
“Really what the problem is, is when it gets into those heavy fire years and those teams are being called back to back-to-back,” Myslivy said. “We’re trying to be able to give them a good work-rest — time off so that they’re not burned out.”
The Forest Service now requires three days of rest for every 14 days worked, once firefighters return to their unit, according to the 2022 Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations/Red Book. Myslivy added that for the BLM teams typically work 14 days and have two days off or work 21 days with three days off.
Myslivy says with snow up in the Northern Rockies now, it’s opened up teams to move to fires in the Southwest — there are five active fires and one contained in New Mexico alone, as of Tuesday afternoon according to a wildfire prevention coordinator with the state.
But when several states have fires, Myslivy says they lean on international or military partnerships.
“Those resources could be tapping out, just because they’re in use — there are so many fires going on,” Myslivy said. “We’ve brought in international teams to help as well, so we’ve had crews come from New Zealand, from Canada, from Mexico.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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