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Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson firefighters help fight McKinley Fire

Airmen 1st Class Brody Patterson and Colin Saumier, firefighters with the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight, take a break from suppression efforts fighting the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 19, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

Airmen 1st Class Brody Patterson and Colin Saumier, firefighters with the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight, take a break from suppression efforts fighting the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 19, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson firefighters wait to re-engage fire suppression efforts while a Candian aircraft drops flame retardant on the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90.5 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 18, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson firefighters wait to re-engage fire suppression efforts while a Candian aircraft drops flame retardant on the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90.5 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 18, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson firefighters engage in fire suppression efforts on the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90.5 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 18, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson firefighters engage in fire suppression efforts on the McKinley Fire near mile marker 90.5 along the Parks Highway in Alaska, Aug. 18, 2019. The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and fought the fire alongside local and state firefighters.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --

Fifteen firefighters from the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services Flight and three firefighters from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Wildland Support Module returned to JBER at approximately 10 p.m. Aug. 22, from assisting with efforts to suppress the McKinley Fire.

The McKinley Fire has been burning along the Parks Highway north of Willow, Alaska, in the Susitna Valley since Aug. 17, threatening homes and other infrastructure.

The Matanuska-Susitna area fire management officer requested assistance from the JBER taskforce, which immediately responded and has been fighting the fire alongside local and state firefighters since Aug. 17, said Jon Glover, JBER WSM lead.

This is the fourth time this season the JBER taskforce has been called upon to respond to a wildfire, Glover said. In the latest three fires, they were called to respond in the beginning of the situation as an initial response force.

Since it takes three to four days for firefighting crews from the Lower 48 to make it onscene to assist fighting fires in Alaska, JBER firefighters and other local agencies are requested as first responders.

“The wildland fire community in Alaska and their leadership are recognizing what incredible assets JBER FES and the WSM have become,” Glover said. “They’re viewed as highly capable assets who are going to be first responders when there are lives, property and infrastructure threatened.”

Through training and by working closely with the Division of Forestry and local firefighting agencies, the firefighting community has learned the strengths and capabilities of the different agencies, said David Donan, JBER fire chief with the 673d CES FES.

“It doesn't necessarily matter who owns the capabilities, it’s about bringing them together at the right time,” Donan said. “We’re glad we’re able to help when they need it. I know they would be ready to help us if we’re in the same predicament.”

Ways to prevent fires

According to the National Park Service, 85 percent of wildfires are human-caused, which includes downed power lines, equipment use and malfunctions, debris burning, unattended campfires and intentional acts of arson.

It’s important to be aware of and adhere to burn bans, Donan said.

“What you might think is going to be a very small fire can quickly turn into something much larger that not only threatens your life and property, but that of your neighbors,” Donan said.

For information on safe fire practices, visit the JBER Fire Prevention website at https://www.jber.jb.mil/Services-Resources/Fire-Prevention/. For emergencies, call 911.