Meeker County Fire Departments participated in a live wildland fire simulation involving water-dropping aircraft and active-controlled fire Saturday, May 7, 2022. The training exercise, coordinated jointly between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was conducted at the Litchfield Wetland Management District (WMD) headquarters in Litchfield, Minn.
Volunteer firefighters from Cosmos, Dassel, Eden Valley, Grove City, Litchfield and Watkins attended the four-hour live simulation. In addition, Litchfield WMD staff incorporated the aviation training simulation into one of their pre-planned prescribed burns. The active fire from the prescribed burn provided realistic conditions as local fire departments practiced requesting and communicating with the aircraft that commonly support wildfire suppression throughout Minnesota.
“As communities continue to expand further into wildland areas, the concern for threats from uncontrolled wildfires increases,” said Taylor Schenk, Fire Specialist with Minnesota DNR. “Preparedness is key to protecting life and property, and timely response both on the ground and in the air helps wildland firefighters keep wildfires smaller and more manageable.”
The fire departments were tasked with requesting aircraft response through the Meeker County Emergency Management dispatch during the simulation. The request then followed an established communication chain that relays through the Minnesota State Duty Officer to the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids, Minn., where all wildland fire response is coordinated. Within 30 minutes of the initial call, aircraft, pre-positioned at the air tanker base in Princeton, Minn., arrived on the scene.
Two Fire Boss single-engine air tankers and a helicopter with an attached bucket delivered the water drops onto the active flames. The local fire departments communicated with the pilots through the third fixed-wing aircraft that provided air traffic control above the airspace over the fire.
The training simulation brought together all of the local, state, and federal partners who respond to wildland fires in Meeker County. “When you think about the complexity involved with requesting, coordinating and communicating with aircraft and ground resources during a wildfire, the situational awareness each participant gained from this simulation was truly invaluable,” said Schenk.
Each aircraft completed two water drops and departed as the simulation concluded. Litchfield WMD staff carried out the final activities to complete the prescribed burn while the simulation coordinators reviewed the training events with the local fire departments. Minnesota experienced a prolonged and active fire season from mid-March well into November last year amid extensive drought conditions. The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center recorded more than 2,000 wildfires that burned nearly 70,000 acres state-wide, and approximately 900 aircraft missions flew on 300 of these wildfires. While the DNR is the leading wildland fire response agency for state and private land, the timely response could not happen without interagency partnerships between local volunteer fire departments and federal wildland fire management agencies who contribute to the coordinated wildfire response.
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