How about two of them?
New Mexico officials are about to find out.
The State Forestry Division, part of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, is setting out to build two elite firefighting crews from scratch, one to be based in Las Vegas, N.M., and the other in Socorro.
The division will be hiring 20 to 22 people for each crew in the coming months. The recruits will train together as a Type 2 incident management crew before eventually going through a review process to attain the higher Type 1 status and become official interagency Hotshots — a designation signifying a unit is highly trained in wildland fire suppression.
That could be a long path, said Candice Kutrosky, the newly hired superintendent over the Socorro-based Eagle Peak crew.
“It’s going to take many years,” said Kutrosky, a longtime firefighter with agencies including the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. “It’s not something you do overnight.”
The plan to create New Mexico’s first two Hotshot crews came out of the devastating wildfires of 2022, including the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire outside Las Vegas, which started when two U.S. Forest Service controlled burns combined and became the largest wildfire in recorded state history.
Last year, state lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham authorized $1.3 million for the State Forestry Division to cover the Hotshot crew positions in fiscal year 2024, according to agency spokesman George Ducker.
Annual salaries for the positions range from $40,018 to $106,099, depending on the position and level of experience.
So far, each of the crews consists of a single person: Kutrosky in Socorro and Christopher Moore, formerly of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, who will lead the Pecos River crew, based in Las Vegas. The agency will ramp up hiring in the coming months.
Once formed, crews will respond to fires on state and private land throughout New Mexico and may help with fires on federal land as well, Ducker said. Depending on their availability, they also might respond to fires in other states. The crews won’t be conducting prescribed burns, as the State Forestry Division is allowed to conduct burns only on its own land, which consists of about 115 acres in the whole state, Ducker said.
Eventually, the state’s plan is for the crews to be evaluated by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to attain Hotshot status.
Training and experience will be crucial, as those are the factors that set Hotshot crews apart from other types of fire crews, Moore said.
“You can’t fake the experience in a firefighting scenario,” he added.
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