Go public: Jennifer Behnken, MDC resource forester, called to fight Wyoming wildfires



Natural wildfires in the United States are common in the summer, however, more severe wildfires can become pervasive and pose a threat to nature, animals, infrastructure, and entire communities.

Throughout the summer of 2021, the United States experienced some of the highest and some of the most severe wildfire cases to date, particularly in the western part of the country.

On many occasions, there are simply not enough local resources available in these areas to facilitate effective and efficient suppression efforts to help reduce the damage and threats caused by these large forest fires.

Organizations like the American Red Cross have recently urged individuals to volunteer to help and assist communities threatened or actively affected by wildfires.

Other organizations like the Missouri Department of Conservation are encouraged to participate and provide personnel to participate in many situations, including a variety of emergency response incidents. These could be large-scale planned events, forest fires, floods, or any other extreme weather event that requires qualified personnel to operate effectively and efficiently.

The MDC offers members of the Missouri-Iowa Interagency Coordination Center (MOCC) firefighter training programs and, when needed, people are dispatched across the country to help with wildfire suppression.

Jennifer Behnken, a community resource forester in the Missouri Department of Conservation recently returned from 3 weeks of forest fire suppression in Wyoming, alongside other MDC staff.

In Wyoming, Jennifer worked alongside a 20-person team with a variety of positions and training capabilities, including a team leader, brushcutters and chainsaw operators, fire crews and crew leaders or sub-commanders who help manage team operations.

Jennifer explained that her main job was to “secure the lines” or control the movement of the fires by creating a divide between the fuel being burned and where the fire has not yet passed through.

“What we did most of the time was watch after a fire started and ended, and that’s what we call a clean-up,” Behnken said. “To mop up is when we secure that line again, we’ll look for those hot spots of things that are still smoldering and try to pull them out of the ground to make sure we’re doing our part to make sure it stays contained inside.” .

With the increasing size of existing fires and the constant emergence of new fires, Behnken said the team was even called in for a new mid-mission suppression effort.

“Our team was on three different fires, they were smaller fires and they were mostly on sage and juniper habitats,” Behnken said. “We had a case where we were watching a fire and watching another forest fire, away from power lines, in an oil field and it appeared right in front of us, three kilometers away, and we were the fire team. closest available, we got into our trucks and got into position.

Behnken said the three elements that cause their creation are fuel, humidity and temperature.

“In the west, especially in recent years, there has been a severe drought, so there has been less humidity and less water in the landscape,” Behnken said. “And then there was the accumulation of fuels, whether it was your trees, your brush, your grasses. Other things can be very dry and basically create a powder keg and create a situation where a fire can start.

Forest fires can be natural, unnatural, severe or even intentional. Benhken explained that they all deserve the same attention and maintenance.

“Someone leaves a campfire unattended, for example, that’s where we talk about campfire safety and our own human efforts,” Behnken said. “Either way, they can be unprepared or a prescribed burn where we have the resources and teams in place to be able to set up those burns for directed management purposes. “

Behnken mentioned that everyone has a responsibility to act responsibly and safely, even though wildfires seem unlikely to occur in their specific location.

“I think some things go back to the Smokey Bear campaign, like ‘only you can prevent wildfires’ and that basically creates an awareness of what we can do on our part to mitigate our own personal activities like paying attention. to weather conditions and when there are burns because we are respectful to them, “Behnken said.” Sometimes it happens accidentally, but you just have to pay attention, make those contacts and, just when it becomes a problem, to make those calls and make these reports so that the qualified personnel who need to come in and move in can move in as quickly as possible. ”

During his three-week trip, Behnken explained that the positions reflect an almost militant routine and demand, but ultimately this is an unforgettable opportunity that cannot be provided outside of practical experience.

“It’s hard work, but I think the respect we get from it, making sure our work feels like it’s worth the effort, feeling like we’re making a valuable presence in these activities.” and getting people’s gratitude – it just makes it a good experience worth it, ”Behnken said. “You can see countries you never see and normally would never be able to participate in, have wild experiences like this.”


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