Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson responds to Alaska wildfires

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
Firefighters from the 673rd Civil Engineer Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson recently assisted with the Division of Forestry's efforts in containing the Sockeye wildfire near Willow, Alaska.

The fire is estimated to cover more than 7,000 acres of land and, as of June 18, was considered the No. 1 priority for fire resources in the nation because of how close it was to a populated area, said David Donan, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Fire and Emergency Services fire chief.

"The heat is just impressive," Donan said. "All the areas out there that have burned are holding the heat, and the sun is just beating down. Where they're operating is almost all dirt roads, there's dust just everywhere.

"It's kind of what you'd consider a wartime environment in the desert," he continued.

To assist with efforts, the base sent four vehicles, which include a structural engine, water tender and a brush engine.

The structural engine is an emergency vehicle designed to protect structures from fires, much like the fire trucks often seen around base. The brush engine is equipped for going off-road and has a large supply of hand-held, fire-fighting tools available. The water tender holds 4,000 gallons of water.

In addition to the vehicles, the base began rotating 24-hour shifts, each consisting of 11 firefighters.

According to recent estimates, there are approximately 650 firefighters from Alaska, Canada and the continental U.S. working together to contain the Sockeye wildfire.

"Over the years, we've built up a pretty good working relationship with some of the local response partners through training," said Andrew Lambert, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Fire and Emergency Services assistant chief of special operations.

The base firefighters need to be ready to respond to a variety of different fires and have been trained accordingly.

"We're all trained to a common standard and our firefighters are actually trained for wildland firefighting by the Alaska Division of Forestry," said Michael Lefebvre, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Fire and Emergency Services assistant chief of operations. "It's a pretty hand-in-glove relationship.

"This is just a part of our job -- but the guys we are working with, this is their whole job," Lefebvre said. "So we get to sap that experience from them.

"It's impressive to see our young guys go out there and be on par with some of the best in the world," Lefebvre said.

Base firefighters are fighting to save the homes and livelihoods of at-risk homes in the area.

"There is nothing these guys are doing that is glamorous," Donan said. "I have no doubt in my mind that our guys have saved some people's homes and properties."