August 26, 2015
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Return of New York Firefighting Team After Battling 25,324-Acre Wildfire in Oregon

TOP Governor Cuomo Announces Return of New York...

Governor Cuomo Dispatches Second 20-Member Crew to Continue Assisting In Fight against West Coast Fires

WYSIWYG

Governor Cuomo announced the safe return of the 20-member crew of forest rangers, employees and volunteers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who have been battling the 25,324-acre Stouts Creek Fire, near Milo, Oregon, for the past two weeks. Additionally, Governor Cuomo yesterday dispatched a second 20-member crew to continue New York’s assistance in containing the West Coast fires. This next group is comprised of eight forest rangers, six employees and six volunteers from the Saratoga Springs division of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

PHOTOS

"These brave men and women answered the call and proudly carried on the tradition of New Yorkers helping their neighbors in their time of need," Governor Cuomo said. "The professionalism and valor displayed during this assignment were second to none and I am thankful for their safe return. I wish the same for this second group that will be assisting in fighting these wildfires."

The returning crew was part of a team of 1,045 firefighters which worked to contain the Stouts Creek Fire for the past two weeks. The fire started on July 30 by a lawn mower used during prohibited hours. It was contained on August 21, but exceptionally dry conditions required crews to maintain a constant presence in order to keep the fire contained.

The team assisted in creating control lines to contain the wildfires, clearing materials from the path of the fires and completing burnout operations in which crews purposefully set land within the control line on fire in order to remove the larger fire's 'fuel.' During their time, the crew worked in rough terrain and endured daily high temperatures. Following their two-week assignment, the crew was flown back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, rested overnight, then boarded buses for their return home this morning.

"I’m happy to welcome the return of these brave men and women who have spent the last two weeks helping to contain this large wildfire and protect precious natural resources," DEC Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman said. "We are thankful that they have returned safely and wish the second crew a safe assignment and speedy trip back home."

The returning crew includes:

Forest Rangers

  • Forest Ranger John Scanlon, Crew Boss, Lewis County
  • Forest Ranger Kevin Slade, Squad Boss, Ulster County
  • Forest Ranger Philip Parlier, Firefighter, Orange County
  • Forest Ranger Alexander Virkler, Firefighter, Sullivan County
  • Forest Ranger Michael Thompson, Firefighter, Fulton County
  • Forest Ranger Russell Martin, Firefighter, New York County
  • Forest Ranger Justin Thaine, Firefighter, Allegany County
  • Forest Ranger Robert Stratton, Firefighter, Sullivan County


Employees

  • Aaron Graves, Lands and Forests, Firefighter, St. Lawrence County
  • Mary Grose, Lands and Forests, Firefighter, Herkimer County
  • Justanna Bohling, Lands and Forests, Firefighter, Oneida County
  • Eric Kasza, Lands and Forests, Sawyer, Saratoga County
  • Frederick Hamilton, Fish and Wildlife, Firefighter, Suffolk County
  • Kevin Jennings, Fish and Wildlife, Firefighter, Suffolk County
  • Donald Nelson, Materials Management, Sawyer, Onondaga County
  • Tyler Briggs, Albany Pine Bush Preserve, Firefighter, Albany County
  • William Fonda, Public Affairs, Firefighter, Nassau County


Volunteers

  • Matthew Vincent, Firefighter, Essex County
  • Lawrence Day, Firefighter, Steuben County
  • Harry McDaniel, Sawyer, Chenango County


Four additional Forest Rangers who were dispatched separate from this team have also returned home. They include:

  • Forest Ranger Timothy Carpenter, Steuben County, was assigned to the 40,904-acre Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wenatchee, Washington as an operations section, task force leader. He returned to New York on August 19.
  • Forest Ranger Adam Pickett, Herkimer County, was assigned to the 88,161-acre Okanogan Fire Complex, northern Washington State as a planning section chief. He returned to New York on August 20.
  • Forest Ranger Bob Rogers, Cattaraugus County, was assigned to 31,190 acres Mad River Complex, then re-assigned to the 34,543-acre Route Complex, both located in Six Rivers National Forest in northern California as a planning section, situation leader. He returned to New York on August 22.
  • Forest Ranger Michael Burkholder, Chenango County, was assigned to Gasquet Complex, Six Rivers National Forest, northern California as a logistics section, supply unit leader. He returned to New York on August 22.


New York first sent a firefighting crew to assist western states in fighting large wildfires in 1979, and, usually, one or two crews have been sent to assist each year. In addition, to helping contain the western wildfires and minimize damage, these crews also gain valuable experience that can be utilized in fighting wildfires in New York. All personnel travel and administrative costs for the crew is paid directly by the U.S. Forest Service or reimbursed to the state.

To date, over 7.5 million acres have burned in the United States this year which is already more than double 2014's total. Climate change has played a large role in this increase. Conditions that favor longer and more severe fire seasons, like the continued rise in average temperatures, have become much more prevalent because of climate change.

This year, the stage was set by an abnormally hot and dry June with record-long heat waves. In fact, June 2015 was the hottest on record for states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho and nearly all of these states are facing severe drought. Scientists and forecasters hope that the strong El Nino predicted for this year will provide relief and overcome the ridge of high pressure that has blocked moisture from reaching parts of the region.

Firefighters from others states continue to assist the U.S. Forest Service and western states to battle the hundreds of thousands of acres of wildfires in the west coast. 

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Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office

NYC Press Office: 212.681.4640

Albany Press Office: 518.474.8418