Forest Service fire fighters from Leavenworth watch as a house burns in northern Wenatchee on 28 June 2015. Photo: Don Seabrook / The Wenatchee World

By Drew Mikkelsen
21 August 2015

OMAK, Washington (KING 5 News) – With wildfires straining resources, Washington officials say that for the first time in state history they're coordinating help from residents who have and can operate equipment like backhoes and bulldozers to dig fire lines.

The Department of Natural Resources says its command posts have been inundated with offers. Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark says his agency appreciates the support, but he wants the fire officers on scene to be able to stay focused on actually fighting fires.

Instead, the agency has set up coordination centers in Omak and Colville, where equipment operators can get training in how to deploy emergency shelters and other basics. Some 80 equipment operators earned their certification at a training session in Colville earlier this month.

DNR says the centers will direct the citizens to where they can be useful without jeopardizing safety. Deployment to a wildfire will depend on the availability of professional firefighting staff to escort and direct the volunteers.

The following information is directly from the Washington Department of Natural Resources:

OLYMPIA – For the first time in state history, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is setting up temporary community resource coordination centers for those wishing to commit time or equipment to fighting the current storm of wildfires.

With firestorms raging throughout the state, DNR fire incident command posts and dispatch centers have been inundated with offers from citizens to support firefighting efforts.

"If people want to help, we'd like them to contact our coordinators so we can work on getting them safely and appropriately involved," said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. "We appreciate all offers of qualified and trained support. Safety for everyone is our highest priority."

DNR is asking those offers be directed to the temporary coordination centers in Colville and Omak to allow DNR fire officers to remain focused on fighting active fires. The centers will organize training sessions for those not currently qualified to serve on the fire line. Some 80 equipment operators earned their certification to work if called at a training session in Colville earlier this month.

Beginning 7 a.m. Friday, Aug. 21, coordinators will review citizens' offers for resources and direct them to where they can be most beneficial and without jeopardizing the safety of firefighters and the public.

Even if a member of the public has sufficient credentials, deployment to a wildfire will depend on the availability of professional firefighter staff to accompany, direct, and ensure the safety of everyone concerned. The type of credentials that would be considered appropriate for a volunteer include "Red Card" firefighters and "Blue Card" equipment operators.

Centers are being established in two strategic locations:

OMAK - Email Jay Guthrie: CRC.Omak@gmail.com or call 360-826-2546

COLVILLE - Email Julie Sacket: CRC.Colville@gmail.com or call 509-675-7847

Each station will be staffed during posted hours with DNR coordinators who will sign up volunteers and contractors, determine where their assistance will be of most help, and arrange training in wildfire safety, where appropriate. Phone messages and emails can be submitted and will be reviewed during hours the coordination centers are not staffed.

To expedite the processing service, potential volunteers should contact DNR coordinators at the above phone numbers or email addresses in advance with their desired role, existing fire qualifications, location, and contact information.

State asks for volunteer fire help, a first for Washington

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