Getting Ahead of the Wildfires

Jill L. Ferguson

Greyshirts partner with Anchorage Fire Department to help prevent future wildfires in Alaska.

During the last weekend in September of 2018, while dozens of Team Rubicon volunteers were on the ground in North Carolina providing relief in the wake of Hurricane Florence, Greyshirts were also active in Alaska conducting critical wildfire mitigation work. Team Rubicon partnered with the Anchorage Fire Department and Wildland Fire Mitigation Specialist John See to clear a dense area of black spruce trees and undergrowth that posed a high fire risk to homes in the Powder Ridge neighborhood of Eagle River, Alaska.

The same weekend, the team also hosted its second Sawyer 1 course in partnership with University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA). 12 Greyshirts were trained in chainsaw operations, bolstering operational capacity for both this and future operations in Alaska and the lower 48. 

All in all, more than two dozen Team Rubicon volunteers participated in the three-day operation, dubbed Operation Last Eagle, conducting chainsaw operations and debris removal. Sawyers, operating in teams, removed standing dead and downed trees and thinned the residual stands of trees to 10 – 15 foot spacing, with the lower branches removed. The felled trees and limbs were chipped and recycled for refuse cover at the regional landfill. TR also provided comprehensive logical support and an Incident Management Team. Approximately an acre and a quarter were cleared and more than 10,000 cubic feet of brush was removed. 

Michael Lloyd, National Wildland Fire Program Coordinator at Team Rubicon, said, “We also helped the Anchorage Fire Department with home inspections to identify properties that need trees limbed-up or removed to help protect them against threats posed by wildfires. This ongoing project and relationship with Anchorage Fire showcases our commitment to serving and building resilient communities.” 

At the end of the work, the team invited the neighborhood homeowners association, the local volunteer fire department, and other community partners to a barbeque. Joe Cline, Anchorage City Planner, explained, “OP Last Eagle was our first operation in 3 years. This meant so…much. On top of our simple achievements of cutting a crap load of timber, making a nice neighborhood look amazing, and eating some great Alaskan meat, we grew as an Alaska team. Our state is huge, so to bring people from different cities together to work and achieve a common goal is what TR is about; different people from different backgrounds making a difference.  

Op Last Eagle allowed us to showcase our capabilities and professional demeanor to many agencies within the Anchorage Bowl and build relationships with those agencies. Organizations now know if something happens in the nearby area we have the ability to respond. We have already started working on future projects and can’t wait for spring.”

Want to fuel Team Rubicon’s wildfire mitigation efforts? Here’s how

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