CADILLAC — Joe Alyea is in the middle of a two-week stint fighting fires out west.
It would be more typical to find the Cadillac resident in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, where he is the deputy fire staff officer.
But Alyea keeps a “go-bag‘ packed for wildfires that break out in other parts of the country. This time he’s carried the bag with him to the Stewart Creek wildfire near Fairfield in southern Idaho, southwest of Boise.
“It’s going pretty good,‘ Alyea said. “We’re making pretty good progress.‘
At last check, the Stewart Creek fire was about 4,100 acres.
In Idaho, Alyea’s job is to plan daily and long-term operations for the folks on the ground. For the past couple of days, firefighters have been doing firing — otherwise known as blackening — to hem in the fire. Readers might know the practice as “fighting fire with fire.‘
Alyea is with a team of about 52 people from all over the midwest and eastern regions of the United States. He knows a lot of them, as he’s been with the team for about six years.
One of the people he knows is Ryan Stone from Oscoda. Stone is the assistant fire management officer out of the Huron-Manistee National Forest’s Oscoda office.
In Idaho, Stone is working as a situation unit leader that oversees the mapmaking and fire behavior analysts.
“It’s totally different from what I’d normally do on my daily job,‘ Stone said. Usually, he oversees firetrucks and dozers.
But it’s good for people like Stone and Alyea to get this experience out west, Stone said.
“We need people with that experience, that understand how to work as a team,‘ Stone said.
Though Michigan has few wildfires, when they do happen in the local forests, the experience of fighting western wildfires helps them know what to do.
Alyea and Stone expect to be home around the 16th or 17th of September. Until then, they are working 14 to 16-hour days and sleeping in tents.