BOISE, Idaho — As wildfire activity increases across the American West and Alaska, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responding. The BLM has mobilized wildland firefighters and aviation support to incidents in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and other states, with the goal of catching wildfires before they grow into large, problematic incidents.
“Every year, the BLM sends its wildland firefighters across borders for wildfire response, and this year is no different. We’ve planned carefully and strategically for wildfire suppression during the pandemic,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. “Now, we’re implementing safe, efficient fire suppression operations with our firefighters working as ‘family units’ to protect people, property and themselves.”
The BLM has sent smokejumpers to Colorado, Nevada and Utah to respond to wildfires, and wildland firefighters in New Mexico and Arizona have responded to several incidents. Wildland fire engines have been sent from Montana to help suppress wildfires in Arizona, and BLM aviation resources are moving throughout the country to locations like Lake City, Florida, and as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska.
These efforts are part of a larger national wildfire reduction strategy guided by President Trump’s Executive Order 13855 [whitehouse.gov] – Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk, as well as Secretary’s Order 3372 [doi.gov] – Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management. The two orders direct Department of the Interior to implement policies to improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands.
Every year, the BLM works with its federal, state and local partners to suppress wildfires as soon as they ignite, a tactic known as “initial attack.” Aggressive initial attack is the single most important method to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public; it also limits suppression costs. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the wildland fire agencies will continue to work to suppress wildfires with the goal of reducing wildfire size and intensity.
The BLM prepared for fire activity by working with its federal, state and local partners to develop specific COVID-19 wildfire response plans to provide for personnel and public safety. These plans outline best management practices to limit the spread of the virus and to provide a safe working environment for all wildland fire personnel.
“Overall, the BLM will use its wildfire response plans to ensure safe, efficient wildfire suppression operations during the pandemic,” said Pendley. “We will continue to send wildfire suppression resources wherever they are needed, because that is what our neighbors, stakeholders and rural communities expect from the BLM, COVID-19 notwithstanding.”