As more than 200 fires burn in Alaska, an all-women’s fire crew is headed there to help
HADWEENZIC RIVER, Alaska — Eight brave women traveled from Wyoming to Alaska this week to battle a wildland fire raging in region.
This is the first assignment of the year for the Bureau of Land Management Women’s Fire Crew.
There are currently more than 200 active fires in Alaska, so the Women’s Fire Crew headed off to The Last Frontier.
The crew will be in the Upper Yukon of the state for the next 14 days, helping to fight the Hadweenzic River Fire.
Getting into fire
This program, founded in 2016, is a collaboration between the BLM in Wyoming and the Montana Conservation Corps.
Any women can apply to the crew, and recruits come from far and wide. Many have experience in wildlife conservation, but limited fire training.
Toni Hardy decided to apply to the program because her dad was firefighter.
“I was going into the season a little nervous, but ended up tackling challenges, and am excited to overcome the unknown in Alaska,” Hardy said on Facebook.
Lauren Formiller served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. She thought fighting fires would be a natural fit as she transitioned back to civilian life.
“Firefighting is the challenge I was looking for,” Formiller said on Facebook. “My goal is to get on a crew next season after this experience.”
More women on crews
The Women’s Fire Crew is a just a year-long program, but participants often go on to join federal crews across the country.
The U.S. Forest Service employs approximately 10,000 wildland firefighters. This includes hand crews, Interagency Hotshot Crews, and engine crews.
Wildland firefighters work long hours in often challenging conditions.
There are women on other federal fire crews, according to BLM Public Information Officer Samantha Storms, but there are not nearly as many women as men.
This program hopes to change that.
In 2017, the first year the program was implemented, 17 of the 18 crew members received wildland fire jobs at the end of their term.
“Most of the women are interested in this crew as a stepping stone,” Storms told CNN.
Prepping for Alaska
The Women’s Fire Crew goes through a two-week fire training known as “rookie school,” according to Rance Neighbors, assistant fire management officer with BLM.
The women are then sent wherever they are needed most.
“This crew is trained and available to help nationally, wherever the need is,” Neighbors told CNN.
Right now, the need is in Alaska, so the Women’s Fire Crew and others have headed up there to help.
“To be able to come to Alaska for your first ever fire assignment is just so incredible,” said crew leader Shelby Descamps on Facebook.
The Women’s Fire Crew traveled by plane, boat, and helicopter to get the Upper Yukon on the eastern side of the state.
“A perk to Alaska is a helicopter flight! I am glad to have an opportunity to push myself. This will be trial by fire, literally,” said crew member Tess Jarden on Facebook.
Jarden, Formiller, Descamps, and Hardy are joined by fellow crew members Alex Perez, Patty Derner, Leah Katz, and Hannah Zamorski.