Crews are battling wildfires in the western United States and are calling in reinforcements—some from Tennessee.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), about 80 wildfires span about 2,200 square miles across nine western states. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. The U.S. Department of Defense will send 200 soldiers to help battle some of the fires.
From Tennessee, 50 U.S. Forest Service personnel, at least three National Park Service personnel, and four state Division of Forestry personnel have been deployed to battle the fires.
One of those four is Tim Phelps, the Forestry Communications and Outreach Unit Leader for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. He was just out in Oregon at the Milli fire, where he worked to get information to the community.
“We’re not out there battling with equipment on the line, but it’s very important to, I guess, arm ourselves, defense ourselves with the information to feed to the folks that need it, that is the community at large,” Phelps said.
He said his coworkers are stationed as equipment and task managers at the Jones and Chetco Bar fires in Oregon, and one has just returned from the Rice Ridge fire in Montana.
Phelps said apart from Tennessee’s own wildfire season and if they have the right training, state workers can go out to battle the fires on their own time off. That means they leave their state job for a federal firefighting job for about two to three weeks at about 16 hours a day.
He said the experience is invaluable, especially after experiencing the wildfires in Gatlinburg last year.
“The experience that they get fighting fires out west, being exposed to that, especially on the levels that they are, we’re talking tens of thousands of acres,” Phelps said.
He said he feels it’s his duty to get out and help.
“We have a principle, a sense of integrity, about doing this type of work and helping others out. It’s fulfilling work, while we are taking our own vacation time and leave to do that, we are fulfilling a passion for that type of work and assisting others in need,” Phelps said.