The US Forest Service is hopping on the green bandwagon and says it is planning for its fire responses to be more eco-friendly in order to achieve net-zero environmental impacts by 2030.
The agency is doing so through a grassroots program that began in 2010 and involves adjusting materials and operations used to combat large fires.
Kelly Jaramillo, chairperson of the National Greening Fire Team, says the program is tackling the initiative one step at a time, with the hopes small-scale changes will lead to a more eco-friendly future.
"We are doing this by reducing waste to landfills, conserving energy and water and reducing the fuel that we consume," Jaramillo said. "We’re trying to move the needle towards saving money and resources. And we try to make sure that they have operational benefits as well."
One of many materials that the forest service is examining with the hopes of using greener replacements for are batteries.
During the height of the busy fire season, the agency says it can use 225,000 batteries a day for radios and other essential electronics.
Because of the green initiative, Jaramillo said many of the batteries are now being recycled, and technologies are being transitioned into solar-powered equipment.
So far, the response to the changes are said to be positive amongst the field crews.
"They felt like it increased their operational resiliency because they didn’t have to go back and forth to a camp to get batteries or disposable batteries. It saved them space, time, and reduced waste to the landfill," Jaramillo said.
Members of the National Greening Fire Team believe operational changes will not only be noticed within the agency but also in the communities they are working to save from wildfires.
The Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 1 million acres in 2021 in Northern California, would typically put a strain on a town’s resources because the addition of firefighters, but because of recycling programs and other green initiatives, it is believed towns are better able to cope with the issues.
"The recycling program was able to not just reduce the waste to the landfill in that case but also reduce the waste management strain on that small town and its community," Jaramillo stated.
Jaramillo said the introduction of firefighting crews into communities can produce two to three times the amount of waste that the area is used to but now is being drastically reduced because of the initiative.
"We’re trying to figure out how to scale up our efforts to have a much bigger impact," Jaramillo said.
Future green efforts could involve transitioning to electric vehicles for either transports or firefighting operations, but forest service leaders admit a permanent solution for gas-guzzling vehicles is a long way off.
Firefighters have yet to assess whether the greener solutions will make a dent in how quickly they can get a handle on fires, but it is an aspect the agency says they’ll be paying close attention to in the years ahead.