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Western Wildfires

October 17, 2018

This summer, preserve managers Darin Groff and Cooper Williams traveled out west to fight raging wildfires. Darin is a certified PA Forest Fire Warden and is active in federal and state fire management where he is qualified as a federal Incident Commander Type 4 / 5, Crew Boss, and Task Force and Strike Team Leader Crew. He was instrumental in founding Natural Lands’ prescribed fire program and serves as our Fire Management Coordinator. Cooper is a forest fire warden and a trained wildland firefighter.

Photo by Darin W. Groff

In August, Darin traveled to Oregon where Klondike Fire engulfed over 55,000 acres in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Darin was a Task Force Leader supervising multiple crews of 20 people, engines, and dozers. He and his crews set up pumps and sprinklers around houses and bridges, wrapped buildings in fire proof foil, and cut brush along the roadside. These crews worked an intense sixteen hour shift with only eight hours off to rest.

On Darin’s second day the wildfire spread over three miles in just a few hours and threatened about 10 homes along the Illinois Wild and Scenic River. That day Darin and his crew worked a 27-hour shift to save the houses.

Cooper’s first trip was in August to Tooele, Utah, where he worked with a crew of 20 firefighters as a sawyer, a firefighter trained to cut down hazardous trees during wildfires. The conditions in the dry mountain desert of Utah were extreme peaking around 110 degrees during the day. The firefighters worked for 14 days of 16-hour shifts often with only five hours of sleep a night. When confronted with a fire of more than 2,000 acres, Cooper worked alongside local fire fighters and a hotshot crew (an elite team of wildland firefighters) to contain the blaze.

Cooper Williams

The second trip in September took Cooper to McCloud, California, where he was assigned to the Delta fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The Delta fire burned more than 63,000 acres and prompted evacuations, road closings, and a massive firefighting response. More than 1,500 firefighters were deployed to fight the Delta wildfire. Waking up to 35 degree temperatures in the morning, Cooper carried a chainsaw up and down the mountain over extremely steep and hazardous terrain.

“As the sawyer, it’s my job to look out for hazard trees that could potentially threaten the crew or the fire line,” said Cooper. “So, during a direct attack, this means I’m cutting down trees that are on fire on the side of the mountain.”

On our preserves Darin and Cooper use their expertise to plan and execute prescribed fires, which helps control invasive species, prevents forest succession in areas we want to remain as meadow, and can reduce the risk of wildfires. Thank you to Darin and Cooper for their incredible efforts, both here and out west.

Visit Binky Lee Preserve or Green Hills Preserve to see how Darin and Cooper take care of nature at home. 

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