Federal wildland fire-fighting agencies prepare for Fourth of July

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At a glance …

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and other state and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires by focusing on:

• Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest and rangeland restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests and rangelands healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.

• Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.

• Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.

— Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

To further address the severity of current wildland fire activity across the western states, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have directed federal land managers to take additional measures to help reduce the risks of new wildfires, ensure the highest possible level of coordination among federal land management agencies and continue to prioritize safety for firefighters and communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in a news release.

“As we continue our aggressive response to wildfires across the West, we must continue to do all we can to support our firefighters, first responders, and their families,” Salazar said in the release. “Protecting human life and ensuring public safety is and will remain our top priority, and these measures will help us minimize the risks of new wildfires on America’s public lands.

“As we move into the 4th of July holiday under difficult wildfire conditions, let’s use this opportunity to thank the men and women fighting to keep our citizens safe, and remember to take easy steps to prevent and prepare for wildfires by visiting www.nifc.gov.”

Building on existing federal and state policies designed to decrease the likelihood of accidental fires, the joint memorandum directs federal land managers to prohibit the personal use of fireworks on lands managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming until July 8, 2012, according to the release.

These local managers will also enforce additional fire restrictions or public land closures as appropriate for the 4th of July holiday and heighten law enforcement and fire prevention patrols in critical areas to ensure that all applicable restrictions are enforced. Many states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, have also put in place new restrictions on the use of fires and fireworks during this time, the release stated.

"As our country celebrates its independence, the aggressive wildland fire fight continues," Vilsack said in the release. "I want to thank the thousands of brave men and women on the front lines who are battling these fires under extremely difficult conditions, and protecting homes, communities, and cultural and economic resources. We ask our citizens to be extra cautious while following open flame guidelines."

Additional measures include prohibiting new prescribed fires in geographic areas where Preparedness Level is at 4 or 5 – which currently includes the Rocky Mountain Area, Eastern Great Basin Area, and Southwest Area – and requiring regional or state level approval to initiate any new prescribed fire in all other geographic areas, according to the release. Each Preparedness Level has specific management directions.

As the Preparedness Levels rise, more federal and state employees become available for fire mobilization if needed, the release stated.

Agencies and bureaus are asked to review their procedures to ensure that the safety of firefighters and the public continue to be the highest priority at every level of the decision-making process during fire suppression. These measures will remain in effect until the National Multi-Agency Coordinating group determines a national Preparedness Level 3 or below. On June 27th, NMAC raised the preparedness level to 4, on a scale of 1-5, according to the release.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, in partnerships with states and local agencies, have developed a cohesive strategy to respond to the increase in wildfires in recent years, the release stated, by focusing on:

• Restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes. Through forest and rangeland restoration activities such as mechanical thinning and controlled burns, officials can make forests and rangelands healthier and less susceptible to catastrophic fire.

• Creating fire-adapted communities. The Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and their partners are working with communities to reduce fire hazards around houses to make them more resistant to wildfire threats.

• Responding to Wildfires. This element considers the full spectrum of fire management activities and recognizes the differences in missions among local, state, tribal and Federal agencies.

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