Firefighters ready in case of a wildfire in blow-down regionIf a wildfire breaks out in northwestern Wisconsin’s blow-down region, part of the firefighters responding could be from tribes around the country.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
If a wildfire breaks out in northwestern Wisconsin’s blow-down region, part of the firefighters responding could be from tribes around the country.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management program has units ready to go across the country, including to Wisconsin’s blow-down region. That’s where a quarter million acres of forests were hit by winds up to 100 miles per hour July 1. In Wisconsin, BIA crews are on-call in Ashland and Shawano. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Zorn says this is a little-known but revered tribal resource.
“They take great pride in that. There’s this long tradition of tribal firefighting crews nationwide. They have these jump crews that have been around for years,” he said.
This tribal firefighting program dates back to 1933 when President Roosevelt formed the Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corp. BIA Midwest Region Fire Management Officer Tom Remus in Grand Rapids, Minnesota says these crews undergo intensive training.
“As soon as you take that first course, you’re a national resource. You’re not just a Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota firefighter, you’re a national resource. You’re available to go anywhere.”
Anywhere includes Florida to Alaska, not just Indian Country. But Remus says most of the BIA firefighters are tribal members.
“There’s a lot of respect on the reservation for protecting your homeland and your natural resources that are held in high esteem on reservations. In some locations, it’s almost like the warrior culture into the fire culture,” Remus said. “They’re held up there as guys who go out there and get it done.”
Remus says they’re usually on scene within 24 hours of getting the call.