One season-ending event is another season-starting crisis, as Montana wildland firefighters and incident commanders leave the West’s forests for East Coast storm duty.
“Sawyer teams are in high demand,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Phil Salmon said of the communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy. “They need lots of chain saws out there, to cut through broken telephone poles, fallen trees and debris so emergency responders can get through.”
On Saturday morning, at least half a dozen crews will board jets bound for Harrisburg, Pa. Most of them will be deployed in New Jersey.
The teams include 20-person firefighting crews from the Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, Helena National Forest, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Idaho Panhandle National Forest, as well as an 11-person interagency incident command team. Another group of Forest Service buying teams left two days ago to start acquiring the fuel, food and other supplies needed by large camps of disaster assistance workers.
The Montana Conservation Corps deployed about 40 of its AmeriCorps volunteers on a 30-day disaster response mission, according to MCC president Jono McKinney. The volunteers will work with Federal Emergency Management Agency staff to clear debris, move sand, distribute food, coordinate other volunteers and support relief efforts.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck scenario and AmeriCorps members are uniquely suited to provide immediate assistance,” Missoula-based MCC regional program coordinator Mario Collucci said in an email. “They have a level of efficiency and skills that make them a great resource to bring stability and aid to the beleaguered people affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.