Federal officials: Firefighters ready despite shutdown

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, left, an unidentified person dressed as Smokey Bear, and Wyoming National Guard Maj. Gen. Gregory Porter watch as U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Brian Ferebee talks about preparations for wildfire season Wednesday in Cheyenne.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Firefighters and other federal employees in the central Rocky Mountain region and Black Hills went back to work during last winter’s government shutdown to make sure they would be ready for wildfire season, federal officials said Wednesday.

So far this year, conditions haven’t been severe enough to put them to the test. Fire danger remains fairly low and the region has seen few wildfires.

The shutdown amid a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over border security funding lasted from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25. U.S. Forest Service Region 2 called back firefighters and others during the shutdown so they could take part in previously scheduled training and hire others for fire season, Regional Forester Brian Ferebee said.

“When we acknowledged the length of the shutdown, we started prioritizing some of the work,” Ferebree told news media at an event with Gov. Mark Gordon that highlighted cooperation between federal, state and local firefighters and land managers in Wyoming.

Ferebee’s region covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and most of South Dakota and Wyoming.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management also called back employees in Wyoming whose work involves fighting wildfires, said Wyoming BLM State Director Mary Jo Rugwell.

“It’s very important to us that we are ready well before fires start to burn because there’s a lot of training that has to happen in order for firefighters to be safe and do their job,” Rugwell said.

Several large wildfires were burning in the region by this time last year. Just because the past several months have been wet and cool doesn’t mean severe wildfires won’t yet happen this year, officials said.

Whether a bad fire season is in store “really depends on the weather we see for the next two months,” Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser said.

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