While it is common knowledge that fighting wildfires is best left to the men and women trained to do it, the behind-the-scenes support shouldn’t go unmentioned. Like the popular saying goes, “It takes a village … ” but in the case of larger wildfires, it [can take] multiple villages.
The Brown Fire, which began April 13 in the Huachuca Mountains, grew from 25 to about 240 acres and zero containment in a little more than 24 hours. The rapid expansion and the fire’s remote location exceeded local control capabilities and required the dispatch of a type 1 national incident management team on Tuesday. It was headed up by Incident Commander Clay Templin.
To manage the logistics, finances, planning, supplies, operations, safety, and other nearby support for a large group of people, the management team set up an incident command post at Fort Huachuca’s Mountain View Golf Course picnic site.
Karen Takai, an information officer with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, said, “The idea is that we build infrastructures, and take whatever chaos there is and try to bring it into a more organized format.”
The goal is to have the command post up and running in 48 – 72 hours.
Along with management, logistics and administration functions, the command post provided all the basic needs including water, food, showers and toilets. Catering companies contracted with the U.S. Forest Service provided hot meals, sack lunches, and supplemental food items. Firefighters brought their own sleeping tents.
Takai explained that minor luxuries make a big difference in morale when the firefighters come off the fire line. “You would be surprised what a hot meal, a warm shower and a cup of coffee will do,” she said. “You could take away their food, but don’t take away their coffee!”
Complete with a medical tent, supply tent, dining area, hand-washing station, ground support/mechanics station, and an area scattered with pop-up tents, the command post resembled a small community.
On April 15, the Forest Service’s Libby Air Tanker Base, temporarily located inside the Sierra Vista airport, supported aircraft which began dropping retardant and water on and around the fire. According to Gilbert Gil, Libby Air Tanker Base manager, 43 loads of retardant, 63,000 gallons total, were dropped that day.
In the period that followed, ground crews kept the fire at bay so no more retardant was needed. However, aircraft at the air tanker base were on standby, just in case.
As of April 18, approximately 440 firefighters were on hand, including: seven interagency hotshot crews; two type 2 hand crews; one type 2 initial attack crew; and 11 helicopters, including one Arizona Department of Public Safety medevac helicopter; nine engines; two water tenders; and miscellaneous overhead personnel were staged at various locations fighting the fire or supporting fire-suppression efforts.
As the need for fire suppression decreased, firefighters and other resources were gradually released from the incident and the small, temporary community disappeared. Soon afterward, the golf course picnic area and life on and around Fort Huachuca returned to normal.
Firefighters and other resources went back to their home units and everyday duties and will remain there until needed again — somewhere else. Then, the call will come and a new temporary fire camp and incident command post will be established and remain in place — as long as there is a need.
There is a strong partnership between the U.S. Army, the U.S. Forest Service, and the surrounding communities and local organizations and agencies. During wildfires or other natural or human-caused disasters, all parties benefit from the bonds formed through years of partnership, training and cooperation.
In a Brown Fire update on April 18, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said, “The cooperation between all public safety agencies, regardless of their mission, was evident in the approach to simultaneously handling a major wildfire and the safety of our citizens. We give our heartfelt thanks to the patience of the public and to the stakeholders in this process.”