Wildland Fire Culture: We’re all in this together
For the first time in the history of our two countries, five crews of firefighters from Mexico arrived for duty on September 23, 2020. After a welcoming ceremony by Sequoia National Forest officials, and two days of orientation training, five CONAFOR (National Forestry Commission of Mexico) crews were dispatched to fire lines on the SQF Complex here in Tulare County. In the four weeks these 100 firefighters have been here, they have worked just about everywhere that boots on the ground were needed.
Functioning much like their counterpart U.S. hot shot crews, these male and female hand crews were chosen by CONAFOR because of their dedication to duty, and extensive experience. Since their arrival, they have constructed containment line after being inserted in the backcountry on the Castle Fire, assisted in back burning, and have worked in mechanical clearing operations in strategic areas where burns might be needed to halt the progress of approaching fire.
On Friday, October 16, 3R News met up with three of the crews from Mexico in the midst of brush clearing along steep cliffs four miles up the Mineral King Road. The Mexican liason for the CONAFOR crews was Juan Manuel Villa Mejia. An assistant director of fire management in Mexico’s Forestry Commission, Juan was proud to represent Mexico in this first-ever cooperative firefighting effort between Mexico and the U.S.
The mission in the U.S. Mejia said, was to share information, train in wilderness firefighting, and support U.S. firefighters in this most difficult fire season. In recent years, Mexico has assisted firefighting efforts in both Chile and Canada so the timing was right to come to California.
The work these firefighters do in Mexico is very similar to what they have been doing on their deployment here. In Mexico, like here, fire management is all about fuels reduction. But ask any of these visitors from Mexico what kind of work they prefer and they will tell you: being on the line and fighting active fire.
“In my opinion, the most important thing is that we can work together because wildland fire culture… it is the the same all over the world,” Meija said.
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