The Stories Behind the Wildfires – the legion of heroes we rarely see

The Stories Behind the Wildfires PART ONE

Our image of a wildfire is often one of firefighters silhouetted by raging flames or families staring at the blackened remains of their homes.

We rarely hear about the work done year round to clear lands and reduce fire danger. We see few pictures of cooks or supply gurus that keep upward of 2000 personnel fed and housed. There are few stories about medics and other support crew members who leave their families to help our families.

We may not see them but they all are heroes to our communities and our families they have helped this year.

This is their story with photos and videos from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. We, the families who were impacted by the fires, appreciate the work they do all year and the work that goes on behind the front page stories of the fires. As my five-year old granddaughter would put it, “We really, really, really thank you.” You are in our hearts and memories.

BASE CAMPS – A PLACE TO SLEEP, EAT, GET WASHED AND GET INFORMATION

Stouts Fire August 21 Night falls on the Incident Command Post.
Stouts Fire August 21 Night falls on the Incident Command Post.
The earth sizzled before the Stouts fire even started in Southern Oregon. Daily temperatures in late July were above 110 degrees. Night time air was oppressive, dry and at temperatures above 80.

The crews slept in tents and on the ground those first days. Their exhaustion battled with the temperatures. Sleep was uncomfortable.

South Fork Crew, Stouts Fire
South Fork Crew, Stouts Fire
Paul Thompson, South Fork Crew Boss from St Helens Oregon, was there from the beginning. His crew worked night shifts and tried to sleep in the day. He said the crews were more than grateful when the air-conditioned yurts arrived.

The fire base was an amazing set up, he explained with a shake of his head.

Tepee Springs Fire Base in Idaho
Tepee Springs Fire Base in Idaho
I started thinking about it. Can you imagine how many people, systems and organizations were behind the mobilization of the base camps at all the wildfires this year?

The smoky Okanogan Complex fire camp has taken over the county fairgrounds.Tom Banse Northwest News Network
The smoky Okanogan Complex fire camp has taken over the county fairgrounds.Tom Banse Northwest News Network
It has not been just one fire camp in one community or even one state. There have been fire camps across the nation. As of September 18 fire crews battled 821,040 acres of fire, the fourth worst fire season as of that date.

Fire hoses and other supplies stockpiled at Devil's Flat Campground near Azalea in Oregon
Fire hoses and other supplies stockpiled at Devil’s Flat Campground near Azalea in Oregon
I tried to grasp the magnitude and the complexity of so many fire camps and systems so I looked up the statistics from the North Pass Fire (Covelo, CA) in Northern California in 2012:

EVERY DAY A FIRE CAMP FOR 1800 FIRE CREW MEMBERS USES:
900 lbs meat; 200 gallons coffee; 28,800 drinks (water, Gatorade, juice); 2,000 pints of milk
1,200 breakfasts; 2,000 bag lunches; 1,500 dinners; 250 MREs (Meals Ready to Eat); 587 dozen eggs
20,000 AA batteries; 5,280 pounds of ice or 754 7-pound bags or 264 20-pound bags; 600 rolls toilet paper for 150 porta-potties
5 mobile sleeping units with 210 beds (42/trailer); 300+ loads laundry; 50 hand washing stations; 450 showers at three shower trailers
24 – 26 miles of fire hose

KEEPING THEM CLEAN

Mobile Laundry  Station Stouts Fire
Mobile Laundry Station Stouts Fire
The fire camps often include mobile laundry units like this one set up at the Stouts Fire Command Base near Canyonville, Oregon. The mounds of clothes, towels, sheets etc each day is staggering to my imagination. The people operating the laundry stations are a needed part of the team.

KEEPING THEM FED

Then there are the stoves, cooking counters, fridges, food, plates, trash receptacles, eating tables, cooks, servers all part the food dance performed three or more times a day. This video is of the meal dance at the Spike Camp, but it is played out over and over at fire camps across the west this year. Thank you for feeding everyone!

KEEPING TRACK OF THE 1000’S OF PERSONNEL AND DOZENS OF CREWS

Organizational systems and people are vital to tracking the crews arriving from all over the nation and other countries. It is essential to have the right crews available for critical tasks . . . and to not lose anyone. Sue served as a Secretary with the Michigan DNR working check-in on the North Star fire. She said people from 28 states and 2 countries came to help on the fire.

KEEPING TRACK OF HOURS SO THEY STAY SAFE – AND PAID

Deanna Drinkwater , Time Unit leader
Deanna Drinkwater , Time Unit leader
Deanna Drinkwater was the Time Unit leader on the Stouts Fire. She arrived July 31st, the day after the fire started and set up the time recording systems. The systems made sure no one worked excessive and unsafe hours. The task quickly grew as the fire exploded and the number of firefighters grew to 1,900 as of August 10th. Her crew grew too, with nine folks from Oregon, Florida, New Mexico and the Canadian Northwest Territories province.

UPCOMING:
PART TWO – More heroes
the medical crews keeping everyone safe and well
the information teams keeping everyone informed
the flight crews gathering info, dumping water and tracking the fires
the utility crews managing the dangers of live lines.
the crews arriving from everywhere
the multi-agency teams cleaning up after the fire

PART THREE – A thank you sign and a journey to meet two fire fighters

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3 thoughts on “The Stories Behind the Wildfires – the legion of heroes we rarely see

  1. I went to High School with Paul. He posted on Facebook a sign that said Thank You Firefighters and said that sign meant so much to them. Even those of us who were not in threat of fire thank the brave men and women who work to keep everyone safe.

    1. I had the great joy of meeting Paul and his son and delivering the sign to him that I had posted by my house. I also got to meet Sean Hendrix from Grayback Forestry who saw one of my other signs. They both impressed me with their skills and kindness..

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