Monday, July 6, 2015

Jet A Fuel Helping Fight Fires, Protect Sage Grouse and Communities

Fuel truck to support air attack. Source: Burns Municipal Airport.
Wildland fire is a frequent visitor in central and eastern Oregon. Rich with forested areas, expansive grasslands and sagebrush landscapes, the communities that call these landscapes home depend on them for clean water, diverse habitat, and a thriving economy.  

In November 2014, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty expressed his concern over the existing Jet A fuel capacity of the Burns Airport. On more than one occasion, large wildland fires had exhausted the fuel capacity pushing retardant aircraft farther across the state for refueling; losing critical time and resources to fight central and eastern Oregon fires.  Last fire season, the Airport ran out of fuel for firefighting planes nine times.

After Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced her plan to prioritize firefighting efforts in sagebrush ecosystems across the West, Judge Grasty again mentioned that having more fuel capacity in Burns would significantly improve initial and extended attack operations in the prioritized sagebrush landscapes, protecting critical sage grouse habitat and valuable forage for livestock and protect communities at risk.

The Judge’s concerns caught the attention of the Western Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy effort – a group of federal, tribal, state and local agencies and organizations dedicated to promoting collaborative efforts to achieve resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities and improved wildfire response.  

Joe Stutler, Co-Chair for Cohesive Strategy effort in the West contacted Ron Dunton, Acting Fire Director for the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. and Jeff Fedrizzi, the BLM State Fire Management Officer for Oregon to introduce them to Judge Grasty.  Dutton and Fedrizzi immediately recognized the value of this problem and the opportunities for success in finding a remedy for the fuel issue.

They worked with the Burns Municipal Airport, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Burns Fire Department to secure and transfer a 6,000 gallon fuel truck from Dayton, Ohio under the federal excess property program. This creative, collaborative solution is exactly what the Cohesive Strategy promotes to improve the effectiveness of wildfire response. 

The result?  Improved firefighting support and protection of valuable landscapes in sagebrush ecosystems and rangelands, and increased protection for communities at risk across central and eastern Oregon.  A trifecta of Cohesive Strategy success!

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