Firefighters extend deployment schedules to fight multiple wildland fires

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FARMINGTON, N.M. – It’s a relentless battle for firefighters so far this year. Crews have been working around the clock to contain fires – some over 100,000 acres in size.

Those battles are not fought alone, but with the help of firefighters from across the southwest on wildland fire deployments.

“When I first started 24 years ago, and if we had a 10,000-acre fire, at that time that was a big fire, now the fires that we are seeing are two to three to 400,000-acre fires,” David Vega, deputy chief of operations for San Juan County Fire and Rescue, said.

Vega adds that fighting fires today is a lot harder than it was in previous years. 

“Those fires require a tremendous amount of resources to contain and control those fires, so no agency can do it alone,” said Vega. 

So, San Juan County Fire and Rescue dedicates resources to just that – helping out their neighbors.

“A typical wildland deployment is a two-week commitment, potentially to go up to 21 days we have an engine right now on the Cerro Pelado Fire, that’s supporting operations there, that crew just completed a  two-week deployment and was requested to extend for another seven days so that engine will be out for 21 days,” Vega said.

Every boot on the ground matters, especially when fighting a fire that’s hard to control.

“Those winds prevent aircraft from flying, so not having that air support is making the job of contain and controlling those fires difficult. So every time there is a blow-up situation, those crews have to pull back on the line and hunker down in a safety zone and wait until the fire gets to a point geographically where it’s safe,” Vega said.

Vega adds that there is no longer a fire season, but a fire year. Crews will have to work up to 18 hours a day to fight them.

“These guys and gals are missing birthday parties, missing seeing their kids every night. If they’re in areas where there is no cell service, they’re not able to contact their families at night and that puts an emotional strain on the crews,” Vega said. 

Vega adds that it is important for New Mexicans to create a wildfire evacuation plan, in case a fire sparks near your home.