Fuels and Fire Crews
Fuels and Fire crews work on projects to reduce the impact of wildland fire and receive basic wildland fire fighter training.
Wildland Fire Fighter Training
These crews receive basic wildland fire fighter training including classes such as S130 (Basic Firefighter Training), S190 (Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior), S212 (Wildland Fire Chainsaws), and the opportunity to take the Wildland Fire pack test and receive a Red Card.
Project work for our fuels and fire crews consists of heavy fuels reduction work; using chainsaws to thin the forest in order to reduce the amount of fuels (trees, shrubs, brush) on the ground, thereby reducing the impact of wildland fire.
Fuels and fire crews utilize chainsaws to restore habitat. This can include conifer removal in sage grouse habitat to help protect the species. The removal of these conifers provide less perches for birds of prey, thereby creating a safer habitat for sage grouse to thrive.
Want to learn more about specific fuels and fire crew projects? Check out these projects from previous years to get a sense of the great work that has been accomplished by our crews!
Sun Down at Sand Draw
This Women's Fuels and Fire Crew was working on a fuels reduction project Sand Draw in Wyoming. Their campsite was filled with large sandstone rocks and surrounded by huge ponderosa trees. One of the crew members, Erin, described the project:
"The objective of this project was to remove juniper from the understory of the ponderosa forest, and we did just that. In pairs of two, we cut the dense juniper, sawing all the way down to the stumps. We were sure to get every last bit of green we saw since those pesky buggers are resilient. Then we piled up all the bits to be torched in a prescribed burn later on. We managed to stack 67 total piles 6 feet wide and 6 feet high, a pretty impressive amount if you ask me! Most of which was done in 90-degree heat and on steeply sloping terrain. Despite the challenges we all chugged along like a well-oiled machine, knowing in our hearts and minds that we were doing what needed to be done. By removing this thirsty juniper, we gave the ponderosa more access to water and room to grow larger and stronger as they deserve. The work was hard, but satisfying to see what we had accomplished at the end of each day."
Thanks to the crew for all their hard work!
Rookie School - Firefighter Training
Our Fuels and Fire Crews go through "Rookie School," or basic wildland firefighter training. Our Women's Fuels and Fire crew based in Grand Teton National Park described their experience learning about fire behavior:
"Our week first consisted of 4 days in class. During those four days, we learned all about the basics of fire behavior and how it is influenced by weather, fuel type, and topography. We then learned about how wildland firefighting is done and the role of fire engines. The fifth day was spent in the field practicing what we had learned. Field day started with practice hose laying, using a drip torch to light fuel on fire, and learning how to sharpen and use the tools brought by hand crews onto fire lines. Then, we made our way up the mountain to practice digging lines. In our scenario, the wind picked up downhill and sent our fake fire toward us. AH! We had to run up the hill we had just dug our line in to seek emergency cover in our practice plastic shelter. There, we imagined what wildland firefighters feel like when their lives are at the mercy of these shelters. We ended the week with an After Action Review, a meeting where improvements and achievements of a project are discussed. We are so thankful for all the instructors and peers that shared their experiences with us. Thank you!"
We have additional fuels and fire crews that complete similar training with other agencies: Our other women's fuels and fire crew works closely with the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, and our fuels and fire crews in Central Divide work with the US Forest Service on the Salmon Challis National Forest. It takes all of these agencies to manage wildland fire in the West!
Juniper removal in Wyoming
Oftentimes MCC crews have the opportunity to continue working on projects from previous years and build on the success of other crews. This fuels and fire crew was working along Enos Creek in Meeteetse, Wyoming clearing juniper saplings. Our women's fuels and fire crews have been working in this area for several years, and the crew noticed the difference their work has made on the creek:
"Thanks to the efforts of the Women's Fuel and Fire crew the year prior, returning crew members that are now crew leads, Ash Waters and Molly Gehrke, say the creek is already noticeably lusher. This is the central part of the clearing of Junipers.
Yes, they smell great, but the juniper cypress significantly affects the hydraulic cycles in various environments. Water inflow to an area primarily comes from precipitation, and the reaction to the surrounding soil, plants, and bodies of water depends on the existing foliage throughout. There are many studies on the water usage of juniper but what tends to be the most impactful on water inflow is the interception that juniper causes to the understory (sagebrush, bunch grass, and short grass cover.) The interception of rain is the rain caught by the canopy and litter of junipers, which acts as a holding place for the water seldom to touch the soil and after that evaporates. The project expands over 100 acres of land. The Wyoming Bureau of Land Management proposes implanting beaver dam analogs (BDAs) to increase watershed resilience, raise the water level, and invite beavers to lodge in the scenic canyon."
This crews' work is overlapping with our Wildland Restoration Teams, who install the BDAs mentioned above. This project is a great example of the variety of work that goes into large landscape conservation!
Fuels Management on the Salmon Challis National Forest
Our Central Divide regional office has two fuels and fire crews that work with the Salmon Challis National Forest in Idaho to complete fuels reduction projects on National Forest lands. This work includes cutting trees and shrubs and making slash piles to be burned later in the fall. The reduces the fuel load in the understory of the forest, giving wildland fire less "ladder fuels" (shrubs, smaller trees, and brush that help carry fire into the larger tree canopy). It also helps reduce the danger to nearby homes that exist within the Wildland Urban Interface.
Conifer Removal in Butte
On this project, a Central Divide crew was working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office in Butte, MT to clear the encroachment of conifer trees from an area that is valued for winter Elk habitat. Removal of conifers enhances riparian vegetation, water availability, and reduces the fuels hazard from a fire prone region.
Fire Ecology at Grand Teton National Park
This Women's Fuels and Fire Crew had the opportunity to participate in ongoing fire ecology research at Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
The Fire Effects Crew is a specialized group within Teton Interagency Fire that performs a variety of fire-related tasks outside of direct firefighting, including tracking and reporting fuel moisture (the dryness of live and dead grass, shrubs, and timber) throughout the fire season. On previous hitches, the crew went out with the Fire Effects crew to take samples of fuels in various areas of the park, from cuttings of Idaho fescue grass to core samples of downed dead logs. Fuel moisture data help the agency predict local fire risk and contribute to larger national databases on wildfire preparedness.
In addition to fuels monitoring, the Fire Effects crew performs research on the impacts of fire on the landscape and the organisms that live there. In 1981, the Mystic Isle Fire burned an area of GTNP, and in 2009, the Bearpaw Fire burned over this previously burned area. This re-burned area allows researchers to ask some interesting questions about how an area responds to more frequent fire.
The crew met up with fire ecologists Diane Abendroth and Erik Kramer of the Fire Effects crew to check in on some trees. After the Bearpaw Fire, the crew made an inventory of trees that survived the burn, taking photos, tagging, and collecting information about the location of the trees. The crew has been returning every couple of years to document which trees are still alive and which have died.
The crew split up into two groups and went on the hunt for the trees, using maps, compasses, GPS, and previous photos of the trees. Once they located the trees, they collected information on if the tree was live or dead, then lined up their cameras to take a near-identical photo to the previous photos of the tree. Some trees that appeared healthy and vigorous in the previous sets of photos were now dead, some even snapped in half and down on the ground. Others were still surviving and thriving.
At the end of their time together, many of the crew members were brimming with questions and wishing they could keep on inventorying with Diane and Erik. they were very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this project and for all of the questions the fire ecologists answered. Fuels and fire crews afford members the opportunity to learn the science aspects of fire ecology!