Local BLM firefighter called to Alaska

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On just her second day at the 500,000-acre Boundary Fire in Alaska, Craig resident Lynn Barclay got word a U.S. senator was coming to inspect the site.

Barclay, a Bureau of Land Management fire information officer, had been called to Alaska along with the other members of the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team. They were already busy setting up camp, laying phone lines and constructing office space and it was already time to meet Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The visit went well, and the senator was fascinated by the camp's lack of showers, Barclay said.

During her 21 days at the fire, Barclay helped establish a cohesive communication network that did not exist prior to the fire, and she got to meet actor Ewan McGregor while she was doing it.

She left Craig July 1, called up when the fire, 20 miles north of Fairbanks, was upgraded to Type 1, the most serious classification for a wildfire. The region was unusually dry and the wind had shifted to blow the fire toward Fairbanks.

The air was so smoky the Fairbanks locals wore dust masks. The sun was up 24 hours a day, but the firefighters needed flashlights to read their plans through the dark smoke.

Already several local communities had been evacuated. But the Alaska Department of Natural Resources didn't have enough public relations employees to contact all the residents who needed to be evacuated, so everyone who worked there had to make calls, even if they didn't have the training.

"It was stressful on everyone," Barclay said.

During public meetings, one of which was held in a truckstop parking lot, Barclay heard from residents just how rough the evacuations had been.

"We took heat, but local officials were able to say, 'We're working on it'," she said.

With eight employees working under her, Barclay's first order of business was to consolidate the agencies' information and develop a plan to disseminate it.

"It gave me an opportunity to help them get that established and coordinated. I felt really good about being able to help facilitate that," she said.

The information team set up a "trap line," a route along which they posted information and met people to talk about the fire.

During the planning process, actor Ewan McGregor arrived at the fire camp on a motorcycle while filming a documentary about a trip across Alaska. Barclay and her team were able to coordinate a shoot for McGregor, and the film crew taped him riding his motorcycle at the fire.

After working on the fire for 21 days, Barclay's team switched with another Type 1 team. The day after Barclay's team left, another community was evacuated and that operation went smoothly, Barclay said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com

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