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Friday, August 18, 2017

ODF adds resources to meet fire season needs as the eclipse nears

If you hang around Oregon Department of Forestry facilities this month, you may hear more accents than usual. That's because the agency has been bringing in additional out-of-state firefighting resources from as far away as Florida and Canada to augment local resources during the peak of fire season.

In addition to its year-round firefighting capabilities, ODF beefs up firefighting resources each spring through the hiring of seasonal firefighters. The agency also contracts with hand crews and aviation resources to make sure firefighting capabilities match expected demand. For periods of projected high fire activity when local public and private resources are likely to be fully committed, ODF can and does seek additional resources through mutual aid agreements.

Peak fire season coincides this year with an eclipse bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Oregon. In preparation, ODF fire operations staff have worked with districts to ensure they have the resources on hand to fulfill their protection mission. In some cases, that has meant districts in the path of totality have prepositioned equipment and personnel in anticipation of congested travel routes. ODF has worked closely with private contractors to ensure their ability to deliver aviation and ground support. Anticipating the massive visitor influx, districts have also arranged for firefighter accommodations and laid in adequate fuel supplies.

Augmenting ODF's regular resources with help from outside the state looks especially prudent in light of limited fire resources nationally and the added complexity the eclipse brings. Last week Oregon moved to the highest level of fire preparedness (Preparedness Level 5) because of high fire activity.

The Northwest Wildland Fire Protection Agreement (also known as the Northwest Compact) provides a framework for the loan of firefighting resources across boundaries and borders. Below are out-of-state resources that have arrived this week.

Alberta, Canada

Above: Deputy State Forester Nancy Hirsch welcomes
helitack and rappeler firefighters from Alberta, Canada
before their deployment to assist ODF districts
in the eclipse's path of totality.
Helitack and rappeler units from the province of Alberta provide welcome additional aerial attack capabilities. The three Canadian crews were oriented Thursday morning at ODF's Salem headquarters. The helitack crew immediately headed to Ukiah in northeast Oregon west of La Grande where its members will be using a local contract helicopter.
Today, one of the rappeler crews travels to Redmond in central Oregon and the other goes to Dallas in Polk County. Each rappeler crew brings with them a Type 2 helicopter.
Washington Dept. of Natural ResourcesTwo strike teams of engines from our neighbor to the north were briefed yesterday and are heading today to the North Cascade District. Each strike team is composed of five engines and 17 personnel. One is deployed in Molalla and one in Santiam.

New Mexico
New Mexico has sent engines and three 20-person hand crews. Two strike teams of engines totaling 10 engines and 24 personnel are now deployed at Prineville in the Central Oregon District. One 20-person hand crew is also hosted at Prineville, with another in John Day. A third hand crew is headed today to Santiam in the North Cascade District.

To help manage the administrative, logistical and operational planning of resources during this period, seven personnel from North Carolina to Florida are working side-by-side with ODF managers in John Day, Prineville and at ODF's headquarters in Salem.

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The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity.

Current wildfire info

National weather forecasters predictions that Oregon would see above average temperatures and below average rainfall in the summer of 2018 proved true. Almost all of Oregon was abnormally dry this summer, with a majority of the state in moderate to severe drought. Many areas posted record high temperatures or record strings of hot days. These conditions set the stage for potentially large, fast-moving wildfires.

What we do

Protection jurisdiction
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. In total there are about 30.4 million acres of forest in Oregon.

Fire suppression policy
The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. While suppressing large fires can cost millions of dollars, economic and environmental damage from wildfires can be many times greater.


About Me

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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers in Salem, Ore., maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.