Meet the all-female fire crew battling ‘unprecedented’ wildfires in Alaska

The BLM Women's Fire Crew 2019
The Bureau of Land Management's all-female fire crew is headed to Alaska for their first wildland fire assignment. (Credit: BLM Fire Alaska)

As more than 200 wildfires blaze through Alaska, destroying everything in its wake, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is sending in its best women for the job.

The BLM’s all-female fire crew will be traveling to the heart of the wildfires by boat, helicopter and plane to the Upper Yukon of eastern Alaska for their first assignment. The eight-woman crew will head to The Great Frontier to battle the Hadweenzic River Fire for 14 days.

The fire crew’s leader Shelby Descamps says she hopes to help the women gain confidence in their skills to pursue a job in wildland firefighting.

“What started out as a summer saw crew leadership opportunity, turned into a season with the BLM Women’s Fire Crew,” Descamps, a 26-year-old California-native, told the Alaska Fire Service. “I want these women to gain the confidence to continue being successful next season.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, only seven percent of firefighters in 2017 were female. In the hopes of “opening doors” for women in this male-dominated field, BLM Wyoming and the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) started the Women’s Fire Crew program in 2016.

“All of [the women’s crew members] are trained my BLM wildland firefighters. It’s a really welcoming way to join this community,” BLM public information officer Samantha Storms tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We wanted to help those interested applicants and open the door for them.”

The Bureau Land Management Women's Fire Crew boards a plane to see the fires ripping across Alaska. (Credit: BLM Alaska Fire)
The Bureau Land Management Women's Fire Crew boards a plane to see the fires ripping across Alaska. (Credit: BLM Alaska Fire)

The program was designed to equip women with the skills to pursue a career in wildland firefighting.

Crew member Toni Hardy was inspired to apply for the program after hearing stories of her dad firefighting growing up. “I was going into the season a little nervous but ended up tackling challenges and am excited to overcome the unknown in Alaska,” Hardy told the Alaska Fire Service. “I want to give a shoutout to my mom and dad!”

While no experience is necessary to apply to the Women’s Fire Crew, many of its applicants have backgrounds in wild-life conservation and public lands management, including crew members Alex Perez, Patty Derner, Leah Katz and Shelby Descamps.

According to the MCC website, the women will leave the program with certifications for firefighter training, wildland fire chainsaws and wildland fire behavior and are later placed in federal crews across the country.

“Eighty percent of participants thus far have gone on to have wildland fire jobs,” Storms tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In the 2018 crew, 11 of the 12 crew members are currently working in wildland fire jobs.”

The BLM Women’s fire crew is one of many answering a nationwide call to help fight just a small portion of the huge inflamed swathes of the Arctic. According to USA Today, the “magnitude is unprecedented in the 16-year satellite record” and is the result of climate change. But, the BLM Women’s Fire Crew say they’re more than ready for the challenge.

“I am excited about working toward becoming a hotshot,” 22-year-old crew member Patty Derner tells BLM Alaska Fire.

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