Ten Iowans deployed to fight wildfires in Montana and Texas

DES MOINES — Seven Iowans are in southwest Montana, working for the U.S. Forest Service to fight a fire that’s already consumed 1700 acres in a national forest. Three other Iowans are in Texas right now, dealing with wildfires there.

Gail Kantak, the fire supervisor for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says “for the most part,” these are not DNR employees, but contractors the DNR has trained and hired to be short term employees of the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s a whole variety, big spectrum of folks who are interested in expanding their knowledge and skills in fire,” Kantak says. “We offer National Wildfire Coordinating Group training to anybody who’s interested.”

The Iowans fighting the wildfire in steep, rugged Montana terrain will be there for up to three weeks. Kantak says they are patroling fire lines and creating new ones to prevent the fire’s spread. “When you see pictures of wildland fire fighters in the west digging lines, that’s what they’re going to be paying attention to,” Kantak says.

The Iowans in Texas will be there for two weeks as part of what Kantak calls an ending crew. “An ending crew is made up of three to five people that work in tandem with an engine and water and hoses,” Kantak says.

A state-owned fire engine was deployed to Texas along with the Iowa firefighters. Each person who’s been hired to fight fires in Montana and Texas has gone through at least 40 hours of training in Iowa.

Texas officials say since the beginning of the year, about 2000 wildfires have burned through 50,000 acres. The Iowans in Montana are fighting a fire sparked by lighting on July 20th. At the beginning of this week, officials said that fire was only 3% contained.