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Responding to Wildfires

Of the 55 million acres BIA has a trust responsibility to protect, 30% have homes intermixed with natural areas. Values at risk include tribal member's homes, forest land, watersheds, pasturelands, game habitat, oil and gas wells and tribal enterprises. BIA's capability to appropriately respond to those wildfires is critical to protecting the people and resources that depend on the land.

Response Resources

To protect its trust assets, BIA maintains a Model 52 Program that includes a wildland fire engine fleet that numbers over 280 engines, sponsors seven Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHCs), and provides 21 aviation assets across Indian Country. Additionally, the BIA sponsors on average over 3,000 call when needed firefighters every year. These firefighters make up call when needed hand crews, camp crews and other leadership positions.

Firefighter Resources

Wildland Fire Severity

The BIA uses wildland fire severity funding to improve initial response capabilities and wildfire prevention activities when extraordinary weather and fire conditions exist. Use of Severity Funding is outlined in Chapter 10 and Chapter 6 of the Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations Handbook (2021). 

BIA Wildland Fire Management Policy

The Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations Guide (Red Book) is a reference that documents policy for management and operations of the interagency wildland fire and aviation management programs.  Information presented reflects current policy and provides program guidance to ensure safe, consistent, efficient and effective wildland fire and aviation operations.

BIA's Fire Management Memo Library and Document Library are helpful resources to find specific agency guidance, handbooks and other resources. 

Wildland Fire Safety

Public and firefighter safety is our highest priority in the wildland fire community. Every aspect of the numerous disciplines within fire management has many safety considerations to account for before, during and after an emergency. Providing the best training, tools and skills to keep the field in top-notch condition is what Safety and Health specialists strive to achieve.

Wildland Fire Training and Qualifications

The mission of the BIA Fire Management's Training Section is to provide wildland fire training courses and education opportunities to technicians and professionals who occupy fire management positions in Bureau and Tribal programs. The training program analyzes the needs for training in Indian Country then develops, coordinates and implements wildland fire training programs to meet those needs. The Section also oversees a national cadre of training professionals, curriculum designers, the national qualifications system, and national visual communication products.

Student Fire Internship Program

The BIA Student Internship Program for Wildland Firefighters provides students earning college degrees in natural resources, forestry or fire management with on-the-job training and quality experiences. Upon graduation, they are qualified and prepared for federal or Tribal service. As federal employees, student interns receive full salaries according to their GS grade, and earn service time that counts toward fire retirement. When complete, the BIA converts the intern position to a full time permanent position and places it with either a Tribe or a BIA agency. Thus, the agency gains an experienced firefighter who understands the fundamental rules and responsibilities of employment.

Structural Fire Suppression

Wildland fire Preparedness and Suppression funding cannot to be used in structural fire suppression activities in accordance with the appropriations the 114th congress outlined. Structural fire suppression is the responsibility of Tribal, State, or local governments. This includes vehicle, and dump fire suppression activities since these are also not a functional responsibility of BIA wildland fire resources. These fires have the potential to emit high levels of toxic gases, for which BIA wildland firefighters are neither trained nor equipped. 

Some Federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, do have full structural protection authority for their facilities on lands they administer and may also enter into formal agreements to assist Tribes, State and local governments with full structural protection; however, BIA's focus is on providing wildland firefighting response, hazard fuels reduction, cooperative prevention and education programs. BIA also provides technical assistance to Tribes when requested.

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