Missouri firefighters dispatched to battle Western wildfires

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JEFFERSON CITY - Mid-Missouri firefighters are among a group of about 120 volunteers helping battle the ongoing wildfires in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.

Jody Eberly is the fire program manager at the Mark Twain National Forest and said the total number of volunteers dispatched through the Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center varies from day to day.

"You're always having people come home and get sent out," Eberly said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation partnered with the Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center to help provide volunteers to battle the wildfires.

Ben Webster is the fire program supervisor at the MDC and is waiting for the center to dispatch his crew.

"I'm part of the next crew that's supposed to go," Webster said. 

Eberly said Missouri firefighters are expected to work at least 14 days that last anywhere from 12 to 16 hours at a time.

"We have firefighters who are out doing the fire line instruction," Eberly said. "We also have people who are out there managing some of the aviation resources like the helicopter and who are working in the base camps to provide the food and shelter and showers for the firefighters."

Gale Blomenkamp is the assistant chief for the Boone County Fire District and said the firefighters experience harsh conditions on the job.

"When you start battling in wildfire that is running several miles in a day, it can grow from 20,000 to 60,000 acres in a 24 hour period," Blomenkamp said. "A lot of homes are threatened. A lot of roads are closed. It's a very dangerous, very dynamic situation for firefighters."

Eberly said fire conditions in the west are much different than that of Missouri.

"The guys were out on the line can be out in very hot, dry, dirty, smoky conditions," Eberly said. "A lot of times they are at a higher altitude than we are used to working at in Missouri, so it can be dangerous and exhausting work."

Western states have a different fire season than Missouri, which allows the coordination center to send Missouri firefighters to help battle the blazes.

"Missouri's fire seasons are in the spring before the leaves pop out, and then in the fall when our leaves fall off the trees or on the ground," Eberly said. "That's our fuel, the Missouri leaves. Normally we don't have fires in the summer because the humidity is so high."

In addition to the different seasons, Webster said weather plays a large role in the wildfires.

"What we deal with most is all these fires are caused by lightning," Webster said. "Here in Missouri when we have a thunderstorm go through, and we see lightning, we have the moisture that comes with it.The majority of these fires are caused by what we call dry lightning. The west coast experiences lightning storms and they don't have the rain that follows it."

The Missouri-Iowa Coordination Center will welcome home one of its dispatched crews Monday.