Wildfire suppression is a primary function of federal wildland firefighting agencies. In order to preserve life and property, as well as maintain our natural landscapes, suppressing wildfires becomes necessary. Wildfires are unwanted, unplanned fires in wildland areas (meaning they burn in vegetated, uninhabited areas, or areas where the natural landscape coexists with the built environment, also known as the wildland urban interface). Fire managers utilize numerous resources - such as hand crews, engines, helicopters, air tankers and bulldozers - and tactics - like constructing fire breaks, setting backfires and cooling the fire edge with water - during suppression efforts.
Klamath Basin hosts two engines modules servicing the interagency areas dispatched by the Modoc Interagency Command Center and the Klamath Falls Interagency Fire Center. What does that mean exactly? In addition to suppressing unwanted fires on refuge properties, our forces assist other local, state and federal agencies with their suppression needs, and in turn, they support our efforts as well.
Here is one common scenario of how all of this works. Many of our fires originate from lightning storms. After lightning strikes, and a tree catches fire for example, a fire lookout spots smoke and calls its location into the local dispatch center. The dispatch center sends fire engines, crews and/or aerial resources (i.e., helicopters, air tankers, smoke jumpers) to the wildfire. If it is a small, or less complex wildfire, perhaps only one or two resources are needed to safely extinguish whatever is burning. The resource(s) remain(s) on scene of the wildfire until it is extinguished and safe to leave. Wildfires are checked multiple times in the following days and even months before they are declared out.
If the wildfire grows or more resources are needed, the person in charge, known as the Incident Commander, requests more resources from the dispatch center. The dispatch center uses its local resources first, then goes to its neighbors when they have no remaining available resources. As an incident, and its resource needs and/or complexity grows, nationally organized management teams take over the aspects of managing the incident. Resources are requested from all over the country. This is why you might see a wildland fire engine from California on a wildfire in Wyoming. Since resources are limited as the amount of wildfires increase, especially in relation to the season and location; different geographic areas of the country are able to share more resources at one time of the year than another. Through this process, we are able to effectively manage our wildfire incidents nationwide.
Klamath Basin Fire Management Zone (refuges we directly protect) lands average between 4 and 5 wildland fires per year over the past 10 years, zone-wide. Because of our great geographic spread, we staff two wildland fire engines during "fire season", generally late May through late September. One engine crew is stationed at Tule Lake NWR, headquarters for the Klamath Basin NWR Complex, in Tulelake, CA. The second engine is stationed at the headquarters of the Klamath Marsh NWR, north of Chiloquin, OR. Both wildland fire engines are ICS Type 3, carrying between 600 - 650 gallons of water and are staffed with 3 - 5 firefighters.
In addition to our wildland fire engine modules, Klamath Basin NWRC is a participant agency and host of a Department of the Interior firefighting handcrew. In times of crew shortages, the Department coordinates between its member agencies and uses firefighters from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs to form a Type 2 handcrew, called LKR-1. The crew, often led by a refuge crewboss, responds to large wildfire incidents anywhere it is dispatched. The crew is generally formed once during the summer, but may be utilized as often as is feasible. The crew was started in 2002 and has been mobilized for wildfires during the 2002, 2003 and 2004 fire seasons.