On his way to South Carolina a few weeks ago, Sean Baker got a call as he and his Hotshot firefighting crew were rolling through Birmingham. “They told us to divert to a fire in the national forest here,” Baker said, “We were the closest team able to handle the call.” That call sent them to Bibb County, and the Oakmulgee Ranger District of the Talledega National Forest.
Baker is the supervisor of the Stanislaus Hotshot Crew out of California. They are professional firefighters that work as an inter-agency federal government resource. “We’re a shared national resource. We go all over. We usually come out here every couple of years,” he added, “We like it [in the south]. It’s different than out west. As we travel around the country it’s neat to see what it all looks like.”
Baker has been a firefighter for 29 years, with 20 of those spent on a hotshot crew. A high level of experience is imperative for his team, according to Baker. Due to the sometimes extreme nature of calls – often massive wildfires – and need to act quickly, he said typically they only have two “newbies” on their crew of 21 at a time. “When the incident command system dispatches us, we go, wherever it is.”
How did the Stanislaus, California, crew wind up in Bibb County? Jeremy Brand, District Fire Management Officer with the USDA Forest Service, who’s office is in the Ranger office in Brent, ordered them on the internet…sort of.
Brand utilized a USDA Fire Service database to request assistance with wildfires earlier this month. According to Brand, he has brought in bulldozers from California and Arkansas, firetrucks from Oklahoma and Minnesota, the occasional helicopter, and now this Hotshot crew. When the dry spell caused a concern around the beginning of this month, he decided to take preemptive action. “They’ve basically been keeping eyes on it and handling the line to keep it clear and contained,” Brand said of Baker’s crew, “They’ve also been helping us with project work, cleaning and clearing in the recreational areas. They’ve been here about two weeks, and will be going home around the end of the month.” And it’s all paid for by the USDA, with no local money spent.
The California crew may be working in Bibb, but they’re sleeping in Alabaster, in Shelby County. “That was the only place close enough that had enough room for the whole crew,” Baker said. Despite only being here while working, his crew likes Bibb.
“Bibb county is a beautiful place. The ranger district and campgrounds are nice. I hope the people get out into the woods and enjoy it. We haven’t seen a lot of people out there. But, every body seems nice, and it’s fun to visit with folks.”