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US wildfire officials see increasing demand for firefighters

The National Interagency Fire Center raised the national preparedness to level 4 on Tuesday.

BOISE, Idaho — U.S. wildfire officials expecting increased fire activity and more demand for firefighters have raised the national preparedness to level 4, which is unusual for June.

“Most of the year we are in preparedness level one which means we may have a few things going on but there's not a competition,” said Candice Stebenson, public information officer for the National Interagency Fire Center.

However, the competition for resources has arrived as Idaho and many western states continue to heat up and dry out.

“As the areas continue to be drier, as we see lightning and thunderstorms come in with little rain but more lightening that are going to cause fires, that preparedness level can be elevated before we see an increase in the fires, which is based on what we think is coming,” she said.

The National Interagency Fire Center raised the level on Tuesday and says it's the second earliest it reached that level on the 1-5 scale since 1990. It's also only the fourth time in the last 20 years to reach that level in June.

“What we are looking at is a higher level of competition for resources across the country, so basically when a fire occurs and something is needed, like if you need an incident management team, aircraft of something like that or crews, a national level of resources, then you are going to be on a priority list, so we have to prioritize where those resources are going across the country to meet the highest priorities first,” Stebenson said.

Officials say more than 8,700 wildland firefighters are currently battling 47 wildfires that have burned more than 800 square miles. Wildfire officials say much of the U.S. West is in a drought with a challenging wildfire season ahead.

‘In the last 20 years, we have only been at preparedness level 4 in June three other times, so it is rare to reach this and that means we are in it for the long haul, it means that our geographic areas that also coordinate responders across the country will need to be prepared for more incoming calls, more response being sent to other locations,” Stebenson said.

Stebenson said right now the Southwest portion of the United States is reporting the highest number of fires and is the nation's top priority. However, here in Idaho if the dry weather and wildfire risk continue to rise, the crunch for resources worsens.

“If we are hearing that weather patterns are affecting a certain area the decision might be made to go to preparedness level 5 considering that we might have to shift resources from one location to another, it just increases complexity,” she said. “We definitely are dry in Idaho so do your part and take those precautions.”

Each geographic area has its own preparedness level, all of those combined help determine what the nation's preparedness level should be. Idaho’s geographic areas are split into two separate areas, the Northern Rockies, at a level 2 and the Great Basin area, at a level 3 preparedness.

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