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Governor Commends Maine Forest Service Forest Rangers for Out-of-State Service

June 16, 2011

MFS Brush Truck

Augusta, Maine – Governor Paul LePage is commending Maine Forest Service (MFS) forest rangers who have been responding with highly professional support to help fight several major wild fires around the country.

MFS forest ranger crews have been dispatched since April to assist in fighting major wild fires in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. A crew of two MFS forest rangers and a civilian firefighter returned Monday after serving in Florida.

The Maine Forest Service, under the Maine Department of Conservation, also is anticipating a call from Arizona to help in the devastating wildfire that is raging through that state, MFS officials said. About 460,000 acres are involved, and the fire is spreading into New Mexico, according to news reports.

The Maine crews serve primarily in leadership positions that make use of their extensive wildland firefighting experience. They are mobilized at the request and expense of the federal and state governments, according to MFS officials. For the first time, the Maine Forest Service also is sending specialized brush trucks to assist in fighting the blazes.

“I am very proud that our Maine Forest Service forest rangers can go to the assistance of our sister states to help fight these terrible fires that threaten human lives and property,” Gov. LePage said. “Not only do they make use of their superb, nationally recognized firefighting skills, but they also extend their training and build up reciprocity in case Maine ever needs to call for similar aid.” “All of these mobilizations help our forest rangers maintain their national qualifications for managing large incidents, whether they are wildfires, hurricanes or other natural disasters,” Bill Williams, MFS chief forest ranger, said. “They gain valuable experience and come back better prepared to handle large incidents in Maine.”

Due to the excessive rain in May, the number of wildfires in Maine is below average, according to the MFS. To date, the state has experienced only 153 wildfires that have burned no more than 66 acres. Last year during the same time period, MFS forest rangers responded to and investigated 338 fires that had burned 234 acres.

“During late spring when the vegetation is moist here in Maine, we feel comfortable sending these rangers, from each of our three regions, to help with large out-of-state wildfires,” Williams said. “Once they return, we will consider sending more to help with the wildfires in Arizona. We have to make certain we have enough forest rangers here in Maine to handle our various forest protection responsibilities.”

So far, nine MFS forest rangers and one ranger pilot have been sent to help with the wildfires in Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. With the exception of the engine crews, most of the forest rangers usually go out in leadership positions as division supervisors, field observers working for the incident planning supervisor, and division safety officers, all which require extensive wildland firefighting experience, Williams said.

For the first time, the Maine Forest Service has sent three brush trucks to help suppress the wildfires. These specialized fire engines – like mini pumper trucks -- carry 600 gallons of water plus other firefighting tools and are designed to go off road. They stay at the incident until the out-of-state wildfires are 100 percent contained.

The MFS forest rangers working on the truck crews are limited to two weeks of out-of-state fire duty. If the fires persist, the crews generally are replaced by other forest rangers when their two weeks expire.

Should wildfires occur in Maine, the state is not left unprotected by the absence of the brush trucks, Williams emphasized. The MFS will augment state-owned forest fire suppression vehicles with federal excess property trucks to fight any Maine fires, he said. In the past, the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Protection Division, which includes the Maine forest rangers, has mobilized forest rangers to areas in the southern and western U.S. and several Canadian provinces, both in leadership positions and as basic wildland firefighters.

The Maine Forest Service also has one of only two nationally recognized, state Incident Management Teams in the U.S., which can handle wildfires and major natural disasters, Williams said. The Maine Incident Management Team is a team of 10 to 12 rangers that covers all the leadership positions ranging from incident commander to operations, plans, logistics, finance and public information.

“Our IMT likely would not exist without the higher-level training and experience provided by these out-of-state mobilizations, which give our rangers the training to meet greater challenges,” Williams said. The chief forest ranger said the team was expected to be mobilized later this summer.

Media representatives interested in interviewing mobilized, returning MFS forest rangers can contact Kent Nelson, MFS fire prevention specialist, at: (207) 287-4989. For more information about the Maine Forest Service, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/index.shtml

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