Delaware sends wildland firefighters to fight blaze

MILFORD — Firefighting is a challenge Allan Austin Gardner- Bowler of Milford said he enjoys. Now, he’s up against a new type of firefighting challenge: deployment.

A spike in wildfires in western states has firefighters and emergency personnel visiting the area to offer assistance, including Gardner-Bowler.

The 22-year- old has been a structural firefighter for nearly five years, but this is his first deployment as a wildland firefighter with the Delaware Forest Service.

He joins 12 other men from the surrounding areas for the 14- day deployment through the Delaware Forest Service, or DFS, as they strive to offer extra hands in taming the wildfi res of the west.

delaware wildfire“I chose to go on this deployment because I wanted to help other communities that are affected by these disasters. It is also a challenge for me both physically and mentally, which I enjoy as well,” Mr. Gardner-Bowler said.

An interesting challenge for the Delaware-based firefighters has been the difference in terrain and weather.

“We’ve currently been on two fires: The Henry Creek Fire and The Grape Fire. Unlike Delaware, the terrain on the west coast has a lot of mountains and rocky areas, which is what we’ve been dealing with,” he said. “Some days we are dealing with high temperatures, gusty winds and extreme fire behavior. Other days we deal with low temperatures, hail storms and chaotic slope winds.”

Although Mr. Gardner-Bowler and others had to take time away from their own jobs here in Dela ware, Gardner-Bowler said they are paid for their efforts while away.

“We typically work 16 hours with 8 hours off,” he said. “My employer was fine with it, however some employers aren’t which I think is a shame.”

Luckily, though, they didn’t have to bring much more than their own underwear, tent and sleeping bag. The Delaware Forest Service provided all necessary protective and firefi ghting gear for the crew.

Training was also provided before deployment.

Mr. Gardner-Bowler said he typically goes to the gym 3-4 times a week, along with other regular physical activities such as dancing in a ballet company, but needed to up the ante to prepare himself to fight fires in the west.

“This is very demanding work and it requires a lot of perseverance and work in order to do it safely,” he added.

The current group from Delaware is considered a “type 2 initial attack crew,” according to Mr. Gard ner- Bowler.

 Allan Austin Gardner-Bowler of Milford prepares his bag for deployment to the west to fight wildfires. Special to The Chronicle

Allan Austin Gardner-Bowler of Milford prepares his bag for deployment to the west to fight wildfires. Special to The Chronicle

“Which means we are self- sustaining and able to be deployed at a moment’s notice to aggressively attack a fire, especially if something bad happens, like spotting,” he said.

In July, DFS sent a team of 20 firefighters to the Rocky Mountain region to battle fires for the National Interagency Fire Center. DFS has sent crews to the west almost every year since 1998, according to the organization.

Mr. Hoyd says they battled the 492-acre Milk Fire near Craig, Colorado and the 1,287-acre Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View, Wyoming. They finished up on the 12,276-acre Whit Fire, east of Yellowstone National Park near Cody, Wyoming.

“As an example of the pressing need for firefighters and equipment, the Pioneer Fire in Idaho alone has scorched more than 100,000 acres and was only 38 percent contained on August 25,” Mr. Hoyd said in a press release from DFS. “More than 1,800 fire personnel were battling the fire that had already cost more than $66 million. Five crews from the east are already assigned to that major incident.”

The Delaware crew currently fighting fires in the west is set to return home later this week.

Crew members include Erich Burkentine of Milton; Mark Kammer of Magnolia; Chris Sturm of Woodside; Allen Austin Gardner-Bowler of Milford; Mike Valenti of Dover; Edward Boyer of Milton; Jim Charney of Felton; Dan Mihok of Camden; Bart Wilson of Dover; Matt Dotterer of Milton; Jeff Wilson of Clayton; Guy Cooper of Millville; and, Nathaniel Sommers of Smyrna.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at

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