Ohio wildland firefighters are playing a Texas-sized role in helping to control record-setting numbers of wildfires in the drought-stricken Lone Star State, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Forestry.
Three wildfire fighters from Ohio recently worked the 33,000-acre Bastrop County Complex wildfires that destroyed 785 homes in the Lost Pine area of central Texas near Austin. The strike team sized up homes that could be saved, provided structure protection in the evacuated neighborhoods, and mopped up hot spots. The team made use of a 300-gallon, four-wheel drive truck from the Division of Forestry, which was initially dispatched to Texas in mid-May. Since then a three-person crew has flown out from Ohio every two weeks to relieve firefighters.
Crew members are state and professional fire department personnel trained and experienced in Ohio wildfire fighting; many often have previous out-of-state assignment experience.
In addition to three-person engine crews, Ohio has provided Texas with an operations supervisor, a state-wide logistics manager for receiving and distributing supplies, a fireline safety officer, a helicopter operations manager, and a tractor plow operator.
“You do your best, hold your ground, or move out in situations like this,” said the Division of Forestry engine supervisor Wednesday morning after coming off the night shift. “I’ve seen houses burn during fires in the past, but not that many houses at one time. Fire was all around,” said the seasoned firefighter from central Ohio who was on his second, two-week Texas assignment this year.
Texas has experienced more than 18,750 wildfires burning over 3.6 million acres this year. In just the first week of September, 172 wildfires have burned 135,050 acres.
“No one dreamed these fires would continue this long,” said Scott Cawood, equipment operator at Mohican-Memorial State Forest, who was on the Ohio crew in June. “Our sympathy goes out to the folks in Texas who have experienced such great losses; it is a privilege to be able to offer them some help.”
The Division of Forestry has provided wildfire fighter assistance to Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, New Mexico, Florida, and Arizona this year, which has included 43 Division of Forestry wildfire fighters and support staff.
ODNR’s Division of Forestry participates in a national cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters to provide mutual assistance to combat the nation’s wildfires. The federal government reimburses all personnel costs and other expenses. These assistance efforts also provide Ohio wildfire crews with hands-on experience to use in suppressing wildfires in Ohio, where approximately 800 wildfires burn more than 4,500 acres annually. Many of these fires occur during the spring and fall seasons.
The ODNR Division of Forestry works to promote the wise use and sustainable management of Ohio’s public and private woodlands. To learn more about Ohio’s woodlands, visit ohiodnr.com/forestry.