In making the case for the U.S. to lend supplies to nations fighting the Nazis in Europe in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt likened it to a good neighbor who "lends a garden hose to the neighbor so he can put out his house fire." Similarly, when states find their firefighting resources stretched thin by big wildfires, they call on other states to send whatever resources they can spare. Yesterday, ODF's Southwest and Klamath-Lake districts bordering California sent four engines and their two-person crews to help Northern California. Two of the engines came from Grants Pass, one from Klamath Falls and one from Medford. A ninth ODF employee also went from Medford as overhead.
Because of more than a dozen wind-driven wildfires, California's governor has declared a fire emergency in three counties - Napa, Sonoma and Yuba. These fast-moving fires have caused fatalities, burned down homes and businesses, caused hurried evacuations and fully engaged local and state firefighting resources. The ODF teams will be put to use where the Northern California incident command deems they are needed most.
This reciprocal aid is an important way the nation's is able to ensure individual states or regions are not overwhelmed during peak fire events. For example, in 2016 after an unusually calm fire season in the Northwest, ODF sent personnel to help fight forest fires in the Southeast, where a long drought led to severe wildfires. Those fires pummeled North Carolina and northern Georgia in October and November. This year, North Carolina returned the favor, being one of about a dozen or more states that sent resources to Oregon during our busy summer wildfire season.
Another state that helped this summer was California, which sent teams north into ODF's Southwest Oregon District during what District Forester Dave Larson calls "The Siege of 2017." Over eight weeks in August and September, district firefighters battled some 317 wildfires. At the peak, during a single week in August, ODF responded to 154 wildfires in Josephine and Jackson counties - an average of 22 a day. Cal-Fire, the state agency responsible for fighting wildfires on state-protected lands, sent crews that helped with initial attack.
In addition to California resources, private landowners also stepped up. Larson cited Handcock, Murphy Timber, and Weyerhaeuser as three which supplied equipment to supplement ODF forces on initial attack. The Oregon Department of Transportation also lent equipment and other support, including water tenders, masticators and lowboys to move equipment. At the local level, the Rogue Valley Fire Chiefs Association organized three strike teams totaling 15 engines and three support vehicles, drawn from these entities:
Jackson County Fire District #3
Jackson County Fire District #4
Jackson County Fire District #5
Jacksonville Fire Department
Medford Fire Rescue
Rogue Valley International Airport Fire
Rogue River Fire District
One result of this mutual aid was the Southwest Oregon District was able to contain 97 percent of all wildfires on ODF-protected land to less than 10 acres, and total acres burned to under a thousand. Similar stories could be told from ODF's other districts. Those experiencing fewer wildfires were able to temporarily loan equipment and crews where the need was greatest. For example, over the course of this fire season the Tillamook District was able to spare equipment and about two dozen staff to help out in parts of the state experiencing high wildfire volumes. In total they spent the equivalent of 458 days fighting fires, including helping protect private lands threatened by the Whitewater Fire in the northern Cascades. Such loans keep staff productively engaged, adding to their experience and honing their skills for use back on their home district.