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Thursday, August 10, 2017

National Wildfire Preparedness Moves to Highest Level


            Boise, Idaho - The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) is raising the National Fire Preparedness Level (PL) to its highest point, PL-5, effective at 4 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on August 10, 2017. The PL ranges from one, indicating minimal activity, to five, which signals very high activity.

            NMAC, which consists of top federal and state fire managers, sets the national PL. The raised preparedness level reflects a high degree of wildfire activity, a major commitment of fire resources, and the probability that severe conditions will continue for at least a few days.

            “A significant amount of initial and extended attack and large fire activity has occurred over the past several days as a result of lightning storms that have intensified local and geographic response,” said Dan Buckley, chair of NMAC. “Given the continuing hot and dry weather and the increase in fire activity in the western U.S., the decision to move to Preparedness Level 5 depicts the complexity that fire managers are encountering to assure that adequate firefighting resources are available for protection of life, property and our nation’s natural resources.” 

            During periods of high wildfire activity, when assets are stretched thin, federal, tribal, state and local partners work together to prioritize wildfires so that those threatening life, property and valuable natural and cultural resources receive assets as quickly as possible. Professional wildfire managers adapt their strategies and tactics based on the assets that they receive and do the very best they can to suppress unwanted wildfires effectively and efficiently.

            Wildfire activity has escalated in recent days after thunderstorms, many with little or no moisture, moved across parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, sparking hundreds of new fires. To date, 40,845 wildfires have burned over 6 million acres in the United States this year. In comparison, the amount of wildfires is slightly below the ten-year average of 44,000. However, the ten-year average for the amount of acres burned is 2.8 million acres higher than the 4.2 million acre average.  

            During PL-5, further assistance from the military, beyond what is already in use, and international resources may be considered and requested, and agency personnel in other positions may be activated for fire duty, but no decisions have been made concerning those steps. In 2015, 200 soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade based out of Fort Lewis, Washington were assigned to fires in Washington for 30 days and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand provided personnel and aircraft to support fire suppression efforts primarily in the Northern Rockies and Northwest.

The last time that the National Preparedness Level was raised to 5 was on August 13, 2015. The National Preparedness Level remained at PL-5 for 24 days until it was dropped to 4 on September 6, 2015. This is the fifth time that PL-5 has been reached since 2007.