District staff member helps fight California wildfire, gains valuable experience

Aerial photo of mountain range with smoke plume in the background

MAITLAND, Fla., Aug. 29, 2016 — An employee with the St. Johns River Water Management District recently traveled to California to help firefighters contain an active wildfire that spans 33,000 acres. Jeremy Johnson, a land management technician in the district’s Bureau of Land Resources, is wrapping up a 14-day assignment on the west coast.

“In addition to providing on-the-ground help, training is a big benefit,” said Steven R. Miller, chief of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Bureau of Land Resources. “The experience gained in California will provide additional, unique skills related to emergency management for a variety of natural disaster situations.”

“Partnering with multiple agencies from multiple states has brought a lot of knowledge to the table,” said Johnson, who has been with the district for about three years. “My role is on the fire, coordinating and ordering resources and supplies for field crews. We have been busy working 16-hour shifts and have ordered about $1.2 million in supplies to meet those needs.”

While participating in out-of-state fires is voluntary, the district often collaborates with other federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Sparked on Aug. 18 and dubbed the Rey Fire, the wildfire burning in southern California is currently about 68 percent contained under the efforts of 1,390 personnel.

An active wildfire season for California means local resources are at capacity; out-of-state assistance is sought through the Florida Forest Service and a network of other agencies.

The district has about 55 employees who are certified to fill a variety of roles related to conducting prescribed fires across the district’s 18-county service area. Prescribed fire — the use of carefully planned fire purposefully set under stringent conditions to control the fire’s effects — is part of ongoing restoration and maintenance of district-owned land along the St. Johns River system.

District employees who work on prescribed fires must complete fire-related training, with multiple tiers focusing on different skills.