AmeriCorps dispatches third team of volunteers to help fight wildfires

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AmeriCorps has dispatched its third firefighting team of the season to battle wildfires in the West, said Monica L. Davis, a spokeswoman for the national volunteer service's Northeast Region office in Perry Point.

This team of volunteers was called on short notice and left from Harrisburg, Pa., on Sunday night to battle the Rough Draw Fire in the Gallatin National Forest near Livingston, Mont.

The Rough Draw Fire was started by lightning Aug. 9. The location is not easily accessible, so the effort to contain it includes four helicopters with bucket drops and other air support. Fire lines are being created at the front of the blaze, but the fire was still growing at the end of last week.

Although the AmeriCorps teams deployed to fight forest fires usually consist of five members, this one includes 13 volunteers because "the Department of Natural Resources needed seven more slots filled due to this time of year and such short notice," Davis said.

Three members of the team - Kimberly Jones, 23, of Spring, Texas; Jay Gregory, 22, of Charleston, W.Va.; and Elizabeth Sigmond, 23, of Delafield, Wis. - were part of the first team dispatched from Maryland on July 15. They helped to fight the Kinishba Fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and smaller fires in Utah. They returned to Maryland on July 29.

The other members of the crew are new, selected from teams serving in New York, except for Marc Nierman, 24, of San Diego, who was deployed from Perry Point.

The new members are Jessica Amundson, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Adam Kiraly, 20, Menominee, Wis.; Molly Johnstone, 22, of Portland, Ore.; Emily Milton, 20, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Stephen Olech, 24, of Chicago; Noel Peterson, 24, of Bloomington, Minn.; Kari Smith, 24, of Phoenix, Ariz.; Erin Sovick, 24, of Fort Collins, Colo.; and Shannon Winje, 20, of Deming, Wash.

Davis said these volunteers have signed up to be firefighters and have been trained with all the proper equipment by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the fire had covered 1,788 acres as of yesterday and was 5 percent contained; the Rough Draw Fire is burning in grass and ponderosa pine. This complex of wildfires is made up of five fires, threatening about 15 residences and causing the voluntary evacuation of four forest camps. The blaze has firefighters camping out for four to five days straight before they get a day off to shower and get in touch with their families and the staff at Perry Point for an update on how things are going. The team will be on-site for two weeks with members of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"They are just so ready to jump in there - they are so excited to fight this fire," Davis said.

"They are living off army and military rations outside with no way of contact for at least four days."

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that Rough Draw is one of 24 fires burning in Montana as of yesterday. Those fires have consumed more than 181,000 acres of forestland as of yesterday.

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