ALASKA, USA — Despite dealing with our own wildfires locally, Washington state has sent nearly 200 people to help Alaskan crews battle wildfires in their state.
On Twitter, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said, "#Wildfire does not care about state boundaries, which is why cross-state cooperation is vital. As fires rage in Alaska, we're sending our crews to help."
DNR said it has sent 191 people (69 of them just this week) to Alaska to "help our neighbor in need."
As of Aug. 23, wildfires have destroyed 51 homes and three businesses in just Anchorage, Alaska, according to the Associated Press.
Jeff Bortner is a Fire Operations Manager for the Department of Natural Resources who is working with crews in Alaska and said he’s traveled to several other places to assist with fires but never Alaska.
“They've definitely had a bumper crop year for fire it's so unusual,” he explained.
Bortner said crews watched videos to prepare for different terrain, fuel sources, and wildlife. Among the 69 firefighters to arrive this week, one 20-person hand crew is working the Swan Lake fire.
“Basically they were using chainsaws to clear a large amount of brush and eventually they could set a backfire off of that,” Bortner said.
It's a different firefighting experience but DNR management believes helping here gives them better skills to bring back home.
“It's always a phenomenal opportunity to go fight fires somewhere else with a different fuel type and a different fuel model and different conditions,” he explained. “Another tool for the toolbox or another slide of your mind."
Hundreds of people have already been evacuated and Gov. Michael Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for two boroughs as a result of the fires
Persistent drought conditions are keeping these fires active, according to the state.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but investigators believe it was caused by humans, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, at least 48 large fires are actively burning in 12 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.