Forests Bridge Gap to Reach Wildfire

As a wildfire rages across a forest, fire engines and heavy equipment travel swiftly along forest roads to get to the fire line. They arrive at the main bridge they need to cross, only to find it has burned and is impassible. This is not part of a storyline in a movie, it was reality for firefighters assigned to the Parker 2 Fire on the Modoc National Forest in August 2017.

 The first firefighters to cross the newly placed bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

The first firefighters to cross the newly placed bridge. (USDA photo by Chris Bielecki)

When firefighters discovered the burned bridge in the Warner Mountains, they reported it to the Incident Management Team (IMT). An IMT is called upon to help a forest manage a fire or other emergency incident that grows too large for them to manage by themselves. Heather McRae, working as the Operations Section Chief Trainee on the IMT, remembered that there was an unused bridge being stored at the Ashe Creek Guard Station on the nearby Shasta-Trinity National Forest. When she isn’t working on fires, Heather works as the Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist on the STNF. Heather quickly relayed to the MNF about the possible replacement bridge.

Upon hearing about the unused bridge, MNF Roads Engineer, Alvin Sarmiento, coordinated with STNF Engineer, Virginia Jones, to investigate if the bridge would fit the span needed. Shortly thereafter, MNF was sending their construction and maintenance crew over to load the bridge and transport it to the Warner Mountains.

Understanding the urgent need for the bridge to be in place to help firefighters battle the Parker 2 Fire, the IMT prioritized the resources needed to move it into place. From the time construction actually began, to the time the bridge was crossed by the first firefighters, only five days had passed.

“This was an incredible team effort. We tapped into the power of the IMT ordering and buying team, supply specialists and ground support for picking up and delivering parts, the operations section for providing invaluable contract equipment and operators, and our local road crew,” said Chris Bielecki, Forest Engineer on the MNF. “And it still amazes me that the bridge was available in the first place, and that it was the right size. This experience was definitely a career highlight for me.”

While sharing resources among national forests isn’t something new to the Forest Service, the sharing and placement of physical structures like this bridge in the middle of an emergency is unique.

“When it comes to fighting fire or responding to other emergencies, if we can help another forest in their time of need, we will do it every time,” said Dave Myers, Forest Supervisor for the STNF.

The Parker 2 Fire was last reported at 7,697 acres and thanks to the nearly installed bridge has been fully contained.

USFS Article By Josef A. Orosz III, Public Affairs Specialist, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Chris Bielecki, Forest Engineer, Modoc National Forest