As wildfires continue to burn across much of the western United States, employees with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry are among those on the front lines of the firefight.
A total of 35 employees have been deployed so far this summer to assist in the firefighting efforts. Fourteen are currently working in Utah, Oregon, Washington and Montana, with duties ranging from dropping water from helicopters, to looking for safety hazards on the fire line and ensuring firefighters use safe practices, to fire prevention and education. One forestry staff member is working in Cleveland, Tenn. to coordinate resources for the response.
“The fire conditions in the Western and Great Plains states are the worst they have been since 2007, with little relief in sight,” State Forester Jere Jeter said. “The fire suppression resources of the U.S. Forest Service and the state forestry agencies out there are stretched to the maximum. We are honored to be able to assist in this effort.”
Drought conditions have contributed to the danger. At one point, wildfires were burning in 17 states. Currently 8 states are still reporting large wildfires, with nearly 2 million acres scorched. The fires have claimed lives as well, with three firefighters killed in Washington. The property loss continues to mount and hundreds of homes have been destroyed.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the importance of the men and women who are risking their lives to contain the flames. “One of our most critical assets in this fight is the courageous firefighters who work on the front lines. There are more firefighters on the ground today fighting fires than at any time in the nation’s history. They work nights, weekends and holidays under difficult circumstances.“
TDA Division of Forestry Communications and Outreach Unit Leader Tim Phelps is in Washington working with a fire prevention and education team in an effort to keep new fires from starting. “This is a record-breaking year in terms of wildfire in the Pacific Northwest with multiple fires burning hundreds of thousands of acres,” Phelps said. “Local resources here are severely limited and everyone who can be out is out.”
Crews have come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and the National Guard has responded. The U.S. Forest Service is spending $10 million per day to contain the wildfires, making this fire season the most expensive on record. Tennessee’s fire season begins October 15. Staff members with the Division of Forestry are gaining valuable experience they can ultimately use at home, while also providing help to a region in desperate need.
To prevent wildfires in Tennessee, anyone starting an open-air fire within 500 feet of a forest, grassland, or woodland from October 15 through May 15 must by law secure a burning permit from the Division of Forestry. There is no charge for the burning permit. In Sevier County call (865) 429-7020.
“Wildfire suppression in the west will continue to require a herculean effort for weeks to come,” TDA Division of Forestry Fire Unit Leader John Kirksey said. “We in Tennessee are glad we can contribute to the effort.”
The Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry promotes the wise use of our state’s forest resources. The division is also tasked with fighting wildfires in Tennessee, training volunteer fire departments, issuing burning permits, enforcing fire laws and teaching the public fire safety.