BIA fire crew during a morning briefing
Jeff Casey, BIA Fire Management Officer, briefs members of the summer firefighting crew, which includes, from left, John Preston, Chelsea Farrow, Mitchell Kurtz, Syd Thompson, Deontae Johnson, Keith Farrow, and Hunter Baum.

BIA prepares for active fire season

By Casey Brown of the CUJ

In the age of coronavirus, summer fire season for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) must go on.

Jeff Casey, fire management officer, reminds his crew that all non-COVID-19 threats are still out there.

“We are still responsible for all wildland fire management activities on the CTUIR. Our job is still to respond and suppress unplanned ignitions on or within  one mile off the reservation boundary,” he said. “Our task is still to do this in the safest, most effective, and cost-efficient manner while protecting life, property, and resources,” Casey said.

Jeff Casey briefs the BIA fire crew.
Jeff Casey, BIA Fire Management Officer, talked to his fire crew about the potential for a busy summer.

The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting July and August to be above average for extreme fire potential.

“We didn’t have an active fire season last year. With the above average precipitation, fuel has been growing, so there is a potential for an active fire season this year.”

The crew is following best management practices from the U.S Department of Interior for Wildland Fire Crews and Engines.

“We are social distancing as a module or a crew as opposed to individual social distancing. It is not realistic for us to expect that during an initial attack or during fighting a fire to put on hand sanitizer and wear a mask and stay six feet apart.”

When the crew comes in each morning, Deonte Johnson takes everyone’s temperature and logs it in a daily record. Other best practices include avoiding sharing, touching someone else’s equipment, and implementing a cleaning period each day to disinfect surfaces in work areas and dorms. Whenever possible, employees will drive individually or allow as much space between each other as possible.

The BIA fire crew includes 12 members, including nine tribal members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. They have four engines, three of which will be in use.

“We’ve got 25 people that are qualified to fight fire on the reservation right now. I have 16 people that are on the first crew. We have four engines, three of which we will staff to fight fire if we need to.”

BIA responds to trust and allotment land on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Casey said they work with other fire units that have jurisdiction on or near the reservation, including the Umatilla Tribal Fire Department and the Oregon Department of Forestry.