MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — Two large groups of Pennsylvania firefighters returned home Friday evening, following two weeks of battling wildfires in western states.
“They’re just returning home from assignments in Montana and Idaho,” says Matt Reed, Chief of Wildfire Operations for the PA DCNR’s Bureau of Forest Fire Protection. “For the past two weeks, these guys have been creating fire lines. They’ve been laying out hose.”
Among the Pennsylvania crews returning to Harrisburg International Airport was Steve Ziegler, a DCNR Fire Forester, whose district includes Dauphin County. According to Zeigler, the PA teams along with crews from Maryland and Ohio were first flown to Missoula, Montana before heading to Hamilton, Idaho to battle the fire known as the “Roaring Lion.”
“Pennsylvania does a good job training us,” adds Ziegler. “We get to go out there and put it to good use, helping some of our fellow firefighters when they’re in need. We definitely get to learn a lot, putting our skills to use in the field.”
That experience battling a fires consisting of several hundred thousand acres of land is rarely found back home. According to Reed, Pennsylvania fire foresters typically respond to frequent smaller fires, although a blaze in the Poconos earlier this year consumed nearly 8,000 acres of land and threatened homes. While the scale of fires is larger in western states, Reed says the types of fuel found in Pennsylvania mountains, such as mountain laurel, burns very similarly to native plants in other areas.
Trips out west are organized through a national partnership between states, where firefighting resources are shared in times of need. Typically, state employed firefighters from Pennsylvania are paid the same hourly rate earned at home when assisting in other areas of the country. Costs are reimbursed through the same state and federal partnerships.