Firefighters from Maine haven’t been asked to help battle the wildfires raging out west, but a few Mainers are doing their part to bring an end to the blazes.
Three Maine Forest Rangers are currently in western states helping coordinate efforts to stop the fires, Ranger Jeff Currier, the Maine Forest Service’s central region manager, said Friday.
“The Maine Forest Service routinely sends rangers and wildland firefighters all over the country,” said Currier, explaining the practice is the result of a cooperation agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s an agreement of benefit and security, that if we [Maine] ever need assistance, that assistance would be immediately available.”
Ranger George Harris of the Island Falls office is in Montana, Ranger Jon Blackstone of the Greenville office is in Wyoming, and Ranger Mark Rousseau from the office near Rangeley is assisting at another fire in Montana.
“We rotate people through,” said Currier.
Each ranger sent out has a 14-day commitment plus a day of travel each way. Once the 14 days are up, another ranger is sent to replace him until assistance is no longer needed.
“We monitor that very closely,” said Currier. “We were very careful not to send out too many [rangers] from here. They update their status and if a ranger is on day 13, we make another ranger available so they can pass each other in the air to make sure we’re not understaffed here.”
Currier said the Maine Forest Service has seven ranger positions open out of a total of 55 that are authorized.
“Our number one priority is protecting the homeland here. If we were fully staffed, we would send more, but we’re not fully staffed,” said Currier.
Currier said the forest service will start a process to fill the vacancies in about a month.
Blackstone, who is helping manage the wildfire in Teton National Forest, is on his fourth day of the 14-day shift. He is a safety officer specializing in risk management.
“My job is to try to find ways to work on the fire and suppress the fire and not get hurt,” Blackstone said Friday. He added that about 850 people are battling a fire that has consumed about 56,000 acres.
Blackstone said the experience will help him greatly when he returns home.
“I get to come out here and sharpen my skills on a large fire that has a lot of other issues,” said Blackstone. “Back home when I’m working on the Maine Forest Ranger Incident Management Team, I’m able to use that experience in a much more effective way.”
Currier also said the experience will greatly benefit Maine.
“When you’re on a 10,000-acre fire in Colorado and come back to a 1,000-acre fire here, it’s really not that great of a deal anymore because you’ve had that experience,” said Currier. “I’ve traveled to 17 different states in my career, and I’m a much better fire manager because of that.”
Blackstone said the fire he’s helping manage is about 25 percent contained.
“I think we’re starting to hook it,” he said.
Currier said the department gets reimbursed for sending the rangers out of state, so it will not cost Maine taxpayers.