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Hurricane Dorian highlights emerging role for wildland firefighters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hotshot crews mobilized for Hurricane Dorian on missions old and new. They have long answered FEMA’s call for clearing trees and debris from blocked roads to open routes for emergency response. The new critical role emerged from Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams had a harder time reaching people in Puerto Rico because of the utter devastation,” said Shawna Legarza, National Director of Fire & Aviation for the USDA Forest Service. “Our crews directly supported USAR. The rescue mission needed the saw-skill and stamina we brought from wildland firefighting. They made a marked difference.”

Suspense overshadows surprise early in the all-hazard work of hurricane response. A fire may blow up and make run of miles in an afternoon, but storms play out over hours and days. They take their own pace while covering hundreds of miles. Hurricane Dorian sat on the Bahamas as a Category 5 for more than a day, threatening to move northwest to the U.S. coast while Hotshot crews mobilized to Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Incident Commander Doug Turman’s Type 1 Northern Rockies Incident Management Team responds to both wildland fire and all-hazard events. The Black Mesa and Globe Hotshots are with them this mission.

“Currently we are staged in Georgia,” said Turman, “ready to support FEMA Region IV with route clearance and debris removal for Hurricane Dorian Response."

While we don’t yet know the full impact of Dorian to the U.S., the best outcome, always, is being ready for a tragedy that doesn’t strike. For crews sent to Florida, this is the likely scenario as the hurricane tracks farther north than predicted. They were there to be embedded with USAR and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, to clear the way for rescuers to reach trapped or stranded people.

“It’s like a fire, but across a much bigger map,” said Gordy Sachs, FAM Branch Chief for All Hazard and International Fire Support, “‘Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.’”

Click ahead for more information about the USDA Forest Service’s all-hazard role.

Group photo: Wildland firefighters
Hotshot crews mobilized for Hurricane Dorian on missions old and new. They have long answered FEMA’s call for clearing trees and debris from blocked roads to open routes for emergency response. The new critical role emerged from Hurricane Maria in 2017. Photo courtesy of Anna Stull, USGS.