WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today issued two orders that will strengthen Interior’s wildland firefighting resources to help address severe conditions in California and bolster efforts across the West during this year’s wildfire season. The actions could make several hundred additional employees available to assist in wildland fire suppression and support activities.
“With the National Preparedness Level at its highest level, the Department’s firefighting efforts remains at the top of our priority list,” Secretary Kempthorne said. “We are committed to doing all we can to protect people, property and resources.”
Kempthorne issued a directive to the Department’s leadership requesting Interior supervisors to make all qualified personnel immediately available for fire assignments. “Employees with aviation, operations, logistics and finance backgrounds will be needed for this important effort,” Kempthorne said.
Employees who are qualified to work in fire support assignments should also be made available, Kempthorne directed. Employees who are not qualified for wildfire suppression or cannot support assignments away from home should support local fire suppression efforts and provide backup for those who are able to perform off-unit assignments.
The Secretary also signed an order that delegates authority to waive dual compensation limits so that retired federal firefighters and support workers can be temporarily rehired without losing pension benefits.
Kempthorne’s actions are part of an overall federal response to a request for assistance from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The federal mobilization, coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is providing additional funding, firefighters, helicopters, airtankers, engines, bulldozers and other equipment.
The National Preparedness Level was recently raised to 5, the highest readiness level for wildland fire operations. With 69 active large wildland fires across the nation, fire managers are especially concerned about the large fires in California, where 58 fires/complexes are burning. More than 650,000 acres have been burned in California this year. Several communities throughout the state have been evacuated. In 2008, 46,850 wildland fires around the country have burned almost 3 million acres.
Forecasters expect very hot and dry weather conditions to continue over California with a chance of dry thunderstorms over the mountains, deserts, and Sierra Nevada Mountains in the southern part of the state. Winds will increase in the Northwest and Northern Rockies. Wet thunderstorms will continue in the southwestern states.
More information on the current wildland fire situation in the West and federal suppression efforts is online at www.nifc.gov.