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Florida Forest Service teams respond to wildfires in western U.S.

On average, deployments last about 2 weeks for crews and can be extended, at times, to 21 days.
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:42 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Florida Forest Service personnel from North Central Florida have been sent out to states like Wyoming, California, Oregon, and Colorado to fight help fight wildfire.

Senior Forest Ranger Jerry Horton from Levy County is just one of the rangers assigned to help out with several national forest fires in the western United States. He has been working as an Operations Section Chief at Mendocino National Forest in Willows, California.

“Everybody out here is doing a fantastic job, there’s over 190 firefighters on this one division which is a lot, a lot of equipment. Things are looking good,” Horton said.

Biological Scientist Jenn Walls from Levy County has also been out in California. She has been assigned to the North Complex in the Situation Unit Lead at Plumas National Forest in Quincy.

“We gather information from operations. We send out field observers who get info resources out there, properties, any kind of natural sensitive areas,” Walls said.

Medicine Bow National Forest in Laramie, Wyoming has been getting help from Senior Forest Ranger Troy Novinger from Marion County. Novinger is on the Mullen Fire as an equipment manager and said the pandemic has brought a change to the way teams are interacting.

“A lot more computers, a lot less paperwork and with COVID, it’s really 180 degrees this year with dealing with that. We used to have big camp crews come in and now we’re having them stationed out at different drop points,” he said.

Hundreds of pieces of equipment have also been used to assist in the Lionshead Fire in Oregon.

Senior Forester Sean O’Neal from Alachua and Putnam counties helped out there as an Equipment Time Recorder. He is currently assigned to the Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado “virtually”.

“Individually a lot of employees from our agency go out to work with larger teams on large incidents. It’s part of what we do as the Florida Forest Service, we participate in incident management," O’Neal said.

On average deployments last about 2 weeks for crews and can be extended, at times, to 21 days.

“We’re helping a community, we’re helping a state that is in need so it is a lot of work and we are working up to 16 hours a day. 14 days in a row so it’s not like theres a lot of downtime. Most of the time we are living in a tent," Goethe State Forest Administrative Assistant and District Training Officer Melanie Banton said

Banton also works as a Public Information Officer in the Waccasassa Forestry Center. She went out west to California and Colorado this summer.

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