Wildland Firefighting and Wildland Fire Operations
Wildland firefighting is a profession where careful planning and years of experience and education meet face to face with Mother Nature; with human carelessness and sometimes with deliberate cruelty, but always with danger.
The role of a wildland fire specialist goes beyond putting out the flames. It is a profession where the commitment to Arizona’s natural resources is a round-the-clock job. The BLM Arizona's fire managers are responsible for public lands sitting at the edge of the border with Mexico, spanning across the entire state, ending at the Arizona Strip, north of the Grand Canyon. Wildfires do not recognize land ownership boundaries; close coordination and communication with other local, state and federal fire departments is paramount.
Relatively speaking, Arizona’s public lands have a medium fire load. Which, technically speaking, translates into an average of 300 fires per year, burning over 30,000 acres annually, based on the state’s fire history dating from 1980 through 2013. More than half of all wildfires on BLM Arizona public lands are human casued, the remainder start from lightning.
In Arizona, BLM firefighters normally fight fire from spring through mid-September. Wildland firefighting is a hazardous occupation as well as extremely physically demanding. Firefighters must pass and maintain stringent physical standards undergoing several weeks of extensive classroom and field training before they are allowed to fight fire.
During the busy fire season, firefighting resources from across Arizona and throughout the United States are brought in to help. These include airtankers, helicopters, engines and of course, firefighters. As fires ignite in other states or elsewhere in Arizona, local firefighters are sent where they are needed.
The number and intensity of fires has increased dramatically over the past several years. Population growth and community development has increased the potential for human caused fires. Drought conditions have increased fire intensities in timber and shrub types, and at other times above normal precipitation has encouraged exotic vegetative species to invade landscapes which historically did not burn, or burned with lower intensities.
Current Fire Information
Engine crews are teams of BLM employees that are multi-skilled professional firefighters. Engine crews use many tools, though the best known are the hose lines. These lines can be laid for many miles and up steep mountain slopes. Engine crews are skilled in hoselays, fitting identification and use, portable pump setup, use of foam, hosepack construction and deployment and engine operations. The engines also carry equipment for medical situations, and the crews are trained to provide aid to victims until more qualified responders can get to the scene.
Hand crews are used for initial attack, suppression of large fires, support of management ignited fires, patrol and providing structure protection. These crews range in size from as few as three on a specialized crew up to 20 on a firefighting hand crew. Firefighters work with specialized firefighting equipment under strenuous conditions, including construction of fireline with hand tools, hose lays, burnout operations and mop up hotspots near the fire's edge. Hand crews are also trained in line construction, the use of pulaskis, chainsaws, radios, portable pumps, and the use of fire to create a "fuel break" between a wildfire and unburned fuel.
Helitack crews are specially trained in the tactical and logistical use of helicopters for fire operations. These crews can be rapidly deployed to remote incidents and are often the first to respond to a wildland fire. These crews quite frequently remain on scene to perform a variety of tactical and logistical missions related to a fire. Helicopters are used to not only deliver helitack crews, but hand crews and additional firefighters to remote locations, and often supplying these crews with equipment and supplies. Helicopters can also be equipped with a bucket or fixed tank for dropping water or retardant during firefighting operations.
Each BLM district has a dispatch center. These centers serve as communication hubs for each district; they help disperse fire crews to each fire incident and they maintain communication between firefighters, management, and other agencies, such as city fire departments. Typically, dispatch centers house employees from both the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, so that the agencies have efficient communication when they are working together on wildland fire incidents. Dispatch centers also track where each fire crew is located, as well as statistics involving wildland fires. Wildland fire dispatch personnel gain valuable experience in communication methods, data collection, and map reading, amongst other respected skills.