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Resources stretched thin as wildfire activity escalates nationwide

For only the fourth time in a decade, the nation’s wildfire situation has escalated to it’s highest and most dire level.

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group moved the National Fire Preparedness Level to a PL-5 Friday afternoon, so how does that impact California?

The country’s top fire assets are focused on the Garner Complex Fire in the Pacific Northwest. Closer to home, the Ferguson and Carr Fires are of top priority but fire officials say resources are being stretched thin.

The Hotshot Crew firefighter fatally injured while suppressing the Ferguson blaze served the Los Padres National Forest as a Monterey Crew Squad Leader, the loss of Brian Hughes coupled with escalating wildfire activity nationwide – has his former Central Coast colleagues on edge.

“If we get one fire and then another one pops out, that’s really going to be where we’re tested,” said Chip Laugharn, Los Padres National Forest Battalion Chief.

On a scale of one to five, one meaning little to no fire activity and five signaling very high activity, the country has been bumped up to a preparedness level five while California sits at a four.

“It means that multiple areas in the country, different states, different geographic areas are all experiencing high fire volume, whether it’s a lot of firefighters committed or a lot of initial attacks,” said Laugharn.

“During periods of high wildfire activity, when assets are stretched thin, federal, tribal, state and local partners work together to prioritize wildfires so that those threatening life, property and valuable natural and cultural resources receive assets as quickly as possible,” said the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group in a news release Friday.

Fire officials say there’s a competition for resources and right now the priority is being funneled through Boise, Idaho.

“If there’s two other geographic areas that are in fives and we’re only at a four, that might mean we are not going to get the toys that we need like aircraft crews or other priorities,” said Laugharn.

With two National Guard C-130’s helping with the firefighting efforts up north, Los Padres leaders say thousands of firefighters were brought in as a precaution a couple of weeks ago.

“We start bringing in a lot of out of state resources, they’re under monsoon season, it’s raining there, so they start sending their resources towards us. As soon as we can get them, they were disappearing so we brought them in just to cover just in case, and they’ve all been absorbed into the bigger fires,” said Laugharn.

There is still a drawdown level of firefighters being kept here at home not being sent out to existing fires for initial attack purposes.

“During PL-5, further assistance from the military, beyond what is already in use, and international resources may be considered and requested, and agency personnel in other positions may be activated for fire duty, but no decisions have been made concerning those steps,” said the NMAC

The last time the Preparedness Level reached five was August 10, 2017. It remained at PL-5 for 40 days.

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