MARQUETTE - A group of 31 Michigan Department of Natural Resources employees trained as firefighters - including 11 from the Upper Peninsula - have been sent to help fight fires in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington.
DNR fire officials said in a news release a hand crew of 20 DNR employees was sent to Medford, Oregon, assigned as an initial attack force tasked with suppressing a 20-acre fire burning in rugged terrain. Another 11 DNR employees are carrying out essential fire-line leadership positions assigned to numerous wildfires in the northwest.
"Our staff has been highly-trained to handle situations like this and are ready to go whenever and wherever they're needed," said Bill O'Neill, chief of the DNR's Forest Resources Division. "Cooperative efforts between counties, states and countries are crucial during emergency situations."
Paul Kollmeyer, fire section manager for the DNR, said the 11 workers from the U.P. are distributed between the leadership positions and the employees sent to the Oregon fire. Those 11 firefighters come from several U.P. communities, including Marquette, Escanaba, Baraga, Newberry, Shingleton and Sault Ste. Marie.
"They are from far and wide," Kollmeyer said.
The DNR will continue to provide assistance to the national fire efforts while fire conditions remain critical. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were nine large uncontrolled fires burning nationwide, with 129 additional fires that started Monday.
O'Neill said during the absence of the Michigan DNR firefighters, the state is still well-equipped to handle wildfires should one occur here.
"The opportunity to assist other states and federal agencies allows DNR staff to improve our skills and maintain high-level qualifications," O'Neill said. "The skills our men and women pick up when they're out of state are brought back and utilized when they are managing fires back at home."
Under Michigan's national cooperative agreement, the DNR received fire suppression assistance from other states and federal agencies in 2007 on the 18,000-acre Sleeper Lake Fire and in 2012 on the 21,000-acre Duck Lake Fire. Both of those blazes occurred in Luce County.
When DNR firefighters are sent on out-of-state assignments, the agency is reimbursed for all costs associated with the support.