Pa. firefighters heading to Alaska to battle wildfire

It’s a first-of-its-kind call for many of the 40 volunteer firefighters who’ve been asked to head to Alaska to battle a wildfire.

“Well, this is actually, for Pennsylvania, the first time we’ve ever sent crews to Alaska. So, it’ll be an interesting trip for the people going,” said Levi Gelnett, a wildfire prevention specialist with the state’s Bureau of Forestry.

Officials in Alaska requested help from Pennsylvania about 9 a.m. Friday. The crews gathered in the evening at the Lower Swatara Township Fire Department to prepare to fly out Saturday morning.

They’ll fight the Stuart Creek 2 fire, which is burning just outside Fairbanks, Alaska. Local forestry officials say the blaze is consuming roughly 46 square miles. People living in the area have been put on evacuation notice. Officials say the fire is man-made but have not said how it started.

“In Alaska it’s a lot different because they have tundra and permafrost, things like that. The tundra is usually what burns down deeper,” said Gelnett.

The two 20-man crews from Pennsylvania will be gone for about two weeks. They’ll work 16-hour days.

“And, you’re only allowed to work 16 days straight because your exposure to the smoke typically wears down your immune system,” said Wayne Martin, one of the volunteers.

Gelnett said while individuals have been asked to travel west already this season, this is the first call for entire crews. He anticipates more help will be requested in the coming weeks.

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