BLM Arizona Veterans Interagency Hotshot Crew returns for second fire season

The Aravaipa Veterans Interagency Hotshot Crew is back for its second fire season as an official Interagency Hotshot crew. This crew, comprised of predominantly armed forces veterans, had a very active fire year in 2020 and they have hit the ground running in 2021.

A firefighter is silhouetted by flames at night
Aravaipa Hotshots work the Jack Fire in April 2021. Photo by Jacob Steuben/BLM

Although fires occur year-round in Arizona, peak fire season usually starts in late April to early May and ends shortly after monsoon arrives, usually in early July. Due to the current drought conditions, fire activity began across Arizona in March and the Aravaipa Crew has been at the forefront of many responses. The Aravaipa Crew is known for their quick response and professionalism throughout the fire community. 

The Jack Fire started on April 21 in Horseshoe Canyon, located in the Chiricahua Mountains and a gateway to the Chiricahua National Monument, a popular camping, hiking, birding, and wildlife viewing area. The Chiricahua Mountains are part of the “Sky Islands,” isolated mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico, that connect two very different mountainous regions with incredible plant diversity. Due to their proximity to the area, the Aravaipa Crew was one of the first firefighting resources to respond, quickly constructing fire line in rugged terrain to slow the fire’s spread. 

“If it hadn’t been for the Aravaipa Crew’s fast action and proficiency, we would have had a long-term, very destructive fire in the Chiricahua Mountains,” said Coronado National Forest’s Fire Management Officer Steven Miranda.

a group of firefighters eat lunch. A truck in the background reads Aravaipa Hotshots.
(Background left to right) Jacob Steuben Cody Larimer, Armand Moini, Tripp Bartlett, (Foreground left to right) Bryan Rankin, and Greg Smith take a lunch break at the Libby Army Airfield. Photo by Matt Carlson/BLM

The Aravaipa Crew led by Superintendent Greg Smith has been housed on the Fort Huachuca Army installation since 2017 through a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – U.S. Army partnership in which the fort supplies the crew with sleeping accommodations and a building that the BLM remodeled into a fire station. In return, the crew assists the fort with fire suppression when available during fire season, and with prescribed fires and hazardous vegetation removal during their off-season. The vegetation treatments help to protect the installation’s critical training assets, operations, and staff that live on the post from catastrophic wildfires and support the Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape (FHSL)

Established in 2015, the FHSL is a partnership between the U.S. Army, and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. The agencies work together on collaborative, community-driven strategies to tackle issues such as water conservation, wildlife habitat restoration, military mission protection, and agricultural viability. Work done through the partnership also supports the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) America the Beautiful and 30 by 30 initiatives to expand collaborative conservation of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors. The work focuses efforts on a landscape scale across jurisdictions to protect biodiversity, implement habitat restoration actions necessary for the recovery of multiple threatened and endangered species and help leverage natural climate solutions.

a firefighter carries a large log
Forestry Technician 4th year Senior Firefighter Brianna Parise serves as a swamper for a sawyer.
Photo by Matt Carlson/BLM

“Wildfires are the greatest risk to Fort Huachuca and the surrounding community,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Hale, commanding general, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence & Fort Huachuca. “Having the Aravaipa Crew on post provides an extra needed resource to provide fire suppression assistance and complete prevention projects that protect our mission and people.” 

In addition to their work on Fort Huachuca the Aravaipa Crew also assists with vegetation treatments not only in Arizona but as part of agreement the BLM maintains with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) on Air Force Bases in Texas and Oklahoma. The Crew has been integral to conducting prescribed fires and removing hazardous vegetation around sites critical to national security operations, which also contributes to improving safety and security around the bases, in addition to working to help the USAF meet their objectives of protecting biodiversity and preserving critical species habitats. 

a fire burns through vegetation as firefighters look on
Prescribed burn at St. David Cienega in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. BLM Photo

The Aravaipa Crew assists the BLM Gila District with its vegetation management objectives as well. The latest project was a prescribed fire in the St. David Cienega, located in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA). The prescribed fire covered about 778 acres within the RNCA. The fire supported the DOI’s America the Beautiful initiative by improving land health and increasing climate resiliency by stimulating growth of desirable grasses, reducing invasive plants, and managing fuel loads so that natural fires are less destructive. A month after the prescribed fire, staff observed wildlife using areas inside and next to the burned area. 

“We are proud to have the Aravaipa Crew in Arizona to serve our communities and to assist Fort Huachuca and the BLM in maintaining a landscape that supports water conservation, wildlife habitat restoration, and the military’s mission,” said Gila District Manager Scott Feldhausen. 

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