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Kansas wildland firefighters assist with West Coast fires

Posted at 7:51 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 20:51:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City region is seeing the effects of the devastating wildfires along the West Coast, such as smoky skies.

With so many fires burning, resources are stretched thin. And several wildland firefighters with the Kansas Forest Service, based in Manhattan, are currently in Lincoln City, Oregon to assist crews on the Echo Mountain Complex Fire.

District Fire Management Officer Bryce Haverkamp said crews are right on the Oregon coast but cannot see the ocean because of the smoke.

Haverkamp and several other Kansas firefighters will spend the next two weeks moving wherever they're needed. The crew left for Oregon on Sept. 11, after the Oregon Department of Forestry requested more aid.

"On this fire, we actually have about 100-150 national guardsmen from the Oregon National Guard because they're just struggling with resources," Haverkamp said.

Haverkamp said the fire is unique as it's burning in an area with high humidity.

"Towns out here are just getting completely burned through," Haverkamp said. "So it's pretty bad. It's bad shape out here."

Mark Neely, state fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service, said crews who travel to other parts of the country to assist also are benefiting from the experience.

"Your local paid fire department, they're getting really good instructors and now those firefighters are getting really skilled at what they do also to protect the local communities and protect the citizens of Kansas," Neely said.

Continued education, according to Neely, is crucial for firefighters tasked with protecting the tall grass prairies of Kansas.

The Forest Service currently is at Preparedness Level 5, which means all resources are stretched thin.

"It's just crazy to see there's people from all over the place out here helping, doing what they can," Haverkamp said.