The U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and FEMA continue to ramp up efforts to protect life, public safety and aid in community recovery. On top of resources already deployed to support response efforts in a number of Western states, early this morning President Obama approved a disaster declaration for Colorado providing additional support to State and local officials responding to the fires, as well as federal assistance for individuals affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.
The Forest Service today mobilized the remaining four Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS). The airtankers will be available on Saturday to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado and elsewhere. They will be based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with the four MAFFS that have already been mobilized. To date, the MAFFS aircraft have conducted 62 sorties, 53 air drops and dropped 138,400 gallons of retardant in the Rocky Mountain Region with a primary focus on the Waldo Canyon fire.
Those four C-130's are in addition to the nineteen airtankers currently available nationally to combat fires. More than 10,400 personnel, more than 700 fire engines and more than 100 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the U.S., supporting state and local efforts.
As part of heightened efforts, the Forest Service is today training an Army battalion at Fort Carson, located near Colorado Springs, Colo., to potentially serve as ground firefighters to boost the number of firefighters available for wildfire suppression throughout the nation. The training will involve one day of classroom training and one to two days of field training. During the classroom training, soldiers will learn about wildfire suppression including fire behavior and fireline safety. During field training, soldiers will receive instruction in fire suppression methods and procedures. This effort will ensure there are additional resources available should the U.S. Forest Service require them.
Since the beginning of the fire, Fort Carson units and services have committed more than 120 soldiers, 10 bulldozers and other equipment and resources to provide assistance to ongoing fire containment operations and interagency support to the Greater Colorado Springs community.
Firefighters, in the face of adverse weather and difficult terrain, continue to make progress on the Waldo Canyon fire and more than 1,100 federal, state and local firefighters, over 80 fire engines and eight helicopters are fighting the fire today in the hillsides west of Colorado Springs.
Joint Federal, state and local damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated as part of the disaster declaration after the assessments are fully completed.
The President's approval of the disaster declaration makes federal funding available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires. Federal funding is also available for Crisis Counseling and Disaster Unemployment Assistance for affected individuals in El Paso and Larimer Counties impacted by the High Park and Waldo Canyon Fires.
Overall, federal partners have deployed 16 Incident Management Teams (IMT), including five Type 1 IMTs, to help provide a coordinated and aggressive response to wildfires across the country, including at the Flagstaff Fire near Boulder, Colorado, the Dahl and Ash Creek fires in Montana, the Seeley Fire in Utah, the Fontenelle Fire in Wyoming, the Neighbor Mountain Fire in Virginia, and others.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years by focusing on:
- Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.
- Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.
- Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.
On average, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior bureaus respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction. Federal firefighters, aircraft, and ground equipment are strategically assigned to parts of the country as the fire season shifts across the nation. Firefighting experts will continuously monitor conditions and move these assets as necessary to be best positioned and increase initial response capabilities. In addition, federal agencies are conducting accelerated restoration activities nationwide aimed at healthier forests and reduced fire risks in the years to come.
Federal land managers are also helping communities prepare for wildfire. Federal partnerships with state, tribal and local agencies strengthen preparedness programs, such as Firewise http://www.firewise.org/ and Ready Set Go! http://www.iafc.org/readySetGo that help families and communities prepare for and survive wildfire. You can also visit FEMA's Ready.gov http://www.ready.gov, to learn more about steps you and your family can take now to be prepared for an emergency.