Feature Story
Print Page

 Alaska Fire Service Galena Station
The BLM Alaska Fire Service Galena Zone Station. Photo: Matthew Vos, BLM Alaska.
BLM Alaska Fire Service Shows Its Diverse Capabilities and Strength after Devastating Floods

In a unique twist of things, BLM- Alaska Fire Service (AFS) recently turned its interior wildland firefighting logistics and operations center in Galena away from firefighting and towards helping with flood relief to the devastated village. 

Early this summer the AFS Galena Station was temporarily closed due to the flooding of the Yukon River after a massive ice jam sent water over the 100 year flood plain, inundating most of the town in late May. The seasonal field station which consists of barracks, a dining hall, warehouse, smokejumper outstation, helibase, fixed wing ramp, administrative building, as well as several outbuildings was spared from the flood as it sits within the protection of a dike built when the US Air Force operated a base at the Galena airport.

AFS saw an opportunity to help the community and through an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing assistance to Galena residents. The Galena Zone is the largest of the AFS fire management zones with an area of approximately 93 million acres. The zone normally has 27 personnel at Galena during the fire season, but relocated 17 staff on August 5 to handle fire operations at the main AFS base, 300 miles away in Fairbanks, to make room for the relief effort. The 10 remaining staff are aiding in support that includes housing, meals, and warehouse operations which began August 8 and will continue through mid-September.

The support is accomplished through a Mission Assignment from FEMA that includes the use of facilities and the logistics personnel that normally operate those facilities. The AFS barracks currently are housing displaced residents and the dining hall is providing approximately 750 meals per day. The Galena Station warehouse is also very actively providing support with equipment, supplies and fuel to the relief effort. 

 Devasted Galena homeVolunteer tentsWorkers repairing a home

One of the many devastated homes along the mighty Yukon River. Matthew Vos

The sun rises over several large tents where volunteers from various agencies have been staying at the AFS Galena Station.  Matthew Vos

Workers repair a house that had severe water damage but was salvaged.  Jeremy Zidekk, Alaska Dept. of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

 Senator Murkowski talking to AFS employees and residents

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski visits with Galena Zone employee and resident Randy Esmailka and Assistant Fire Management Officer Willie Branson. Photo: Jeremy Zidek, Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Alaska Fire Service Manager Kent Slaughter said, “This support to Galena residents is an opportunity for the BLM-Alaska Fire Service to help support Galena in ways not associated with wildland fire. It’s extremely important to us as members of the community to participate in this operation.” 

With winter rapidly approaching, Alaska US Senator Lisa Murkowski visited Galena to meet with FEMA and State of Alaska Emergency Management officials. While there she surveyed the progress being made and spoke with lead contractors about deadlines for completing work. She stated “There is so much to be done, and we all know winter is coming. Winter comes early and hits hard in the Interior. We need to have systems in place in time for winter, and from what I am seeing, that may not happen. I am leaving with a real sense of obligation to push federal, state and local partners to work together as quickly as possible. There is a lot more work to do.”

With the rapid approach of winter, the AFS support will be winding down soon. The recovery effort is a long term effort and AFS expects to continue to be involved and provide support in any way they can.

—Story by BLM-Alaska Matthew Vos

Last updated: 07-22-2016