Forest Service Pushed to the Limits as 21,000 Firefighters Fight 100 Wildfires

by Jennifer Shea

The U.S. Forest Service is in crisis mode, the agency said on Friday. Approximately 21,000 federal firefighters are deployed in multiple states across the West to battle the blazes raging out of control there.

That total headcount is more than double the number deployed at this time last year. Northern California’s Dixie Fire alone has drawn about 6,170 firefighters.

More than 100 large wildfires are currently burning in over a dozen Western states, CBS reports. That’s thanks to heatwaves and drought that have made the fires more severe earlier on in the season than in previous years.

As a result, the Forest Service is dealing with “critical resources limitations,” said Anthony Scardina, a deputy forester for the agency’s Pacific Southwest region.

Forest Service Worried About New Fires

Unstable weather conditions, such as a risk of thunderstorms, have added a wild card to the mix. Lightning across northern California, Oregon, and Nevada could bring new fires, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

“Mother Nature just kind of keeps throwing obstacles our way,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Edwin Zuniga.

The federal firefighters are working alongside state firefighting forces. The latter are paid significantly better than their federal counterparts, with Forest Service firefighters in California getting a starting salary of $28,078 compared to $66,336 for Cal Fire firefighters, per the Daily Mail.

Cal Fire estimated that about 9,831 firefighters are beating back 11 big wildfires in addition to smaller fires throughout California.

The Dixie Fire has claimed more than 1,000 homes and businesses. It torched the town of Greenville last week and is heading toward the town of Westwood, east of Lake Almanor.

Wildfires Raging Across the Western U.S.

The smoke from Western wildfires has pushed air pollution levels to unhealthy heights in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Northern California, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Meanwhile, new wildfires broke out in southeastern Montana and in southeastern Oregon. In Montana, fire spread across the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, threatening hundreds of homes. While the fire was more than 50% contained by Friday, it was still growing near the town of Lame Deer, a tribal headquarters, and a second fire was advancing on the town from the opposite direction.

In Oregon, lightning-sparked two new wildfires near the California border. Gov. Kate Brown declared an emergency as a result. Oregon is suffering hundred-degree temperatures and drought, which could feed the flames over the weekend.

Western Canada is also seeing dozens of wildfires. Scientists say climate change is driving the shift toward more extreme weather and more severe wildfires across the West.