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Firefighters from Utah working initial attack in the central US

Posted at 9:46 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 09:39:15-04

Wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma are sparking daily and making a run at communities and livelihood.

So when fire crews there asked for help, Utah answered the call.

Bureau of Land Management Utah has a few engines assisting with wildfire suppression in the Midwest.

“It’s a little bit different than back home,” said Jeff Bergfeld, a fire operation specialist with BLM Utah out of Richfield. “It’s almost all grass, flat land, rolling hills, so it gives us kind of a different perspective of fire.”

Bergfeld is working his second 14-day roll in southern Oklahoma assisting with initial attack operations per the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We fight fires all over the country, especially in the summer in the peak of fire season,” said Derek Domis, an engine captain with BLM Utah out of Richfield, working alongside Bergfield in Oklahoma. “[It’s my] first time out here and it’s been a different experience for sure.”

Domis described the grassy, flat landscape and the means for wildfire to spread quickly.

“These fires are burning through some of the oil fields, farmlands, burning out crops," Domis said. "And unfortunately, the last one we're on, one of the bigger fires, it did burn up a trailer — someone’s trailer, someone’s house."

BLM Utah received some funding last year to make these trips possible to assist other states in need. They’ve been able to convert 27 part-time or seasonal jobs into full-time employment, thus giving the opportunity to answer requests for assistance from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

“That is quite a bit of additional capacity to be able to send really high-ranking, very experienced wildland firefighters to states that might either have as much capacity or be tapped out and needed some assistance,” said Chris Delaney, State Fire Management Officer for BLM Utah. “It’s great to know that states like Texas and Oklahoma where we have resources, I know that come July and August when we need help, they're really going to look to their depths to see what they can send our way. It’s a very small brotherhood or family, and we all try to help each other out when possible.”

Bureau of Land Management is the largest land manager in Utah. Along with fellow federal resources, they work with state and local departments on wildfire suppression. Given the drought and current snowpack conditions, BLM is already starting to prepare for the upcoming summer months.

“We are getting prepared earlier, we’ve got aircraft coming on, we’re getting our bases open, hiring more people than we’ve hired in the past,” said Delaney.

Along with other partners in the state, BLM Utah is stressing the importance of recreational users to practice "fire sense" when enjoying the outdoors.