PART TWO: STORIES BEHIND THE WILDFIRES – THE HEROES WE OFTEN DON’T SEE

COLLECTING AND PROVIDING INFORMATION
11894464_1603720113213309_3004968866352301884_oTwenty five years ago the Angel fire burned behind my home in Southern Oregon. Actually I am not sure of the exact date or official name of the fire even though the fire camp was set up on our road and we lived with smoke and ashes for weeks. Little can even be found “online” about the fire.

A Fire Crew leader explains  to  Azalea, Oregon  residents the newest fire map and the companies deployed to fight the Stouts fire.
A Fire Crew leader explains to Azalea, Oregon residents the newest fire map and the companies deployed to fight the Stouts fire.
That is not the case with fires today. Photos, fire maps, news releases, Facebook pages and even twitter information sites can be found for most wildfires within days or even hours of a fire. Emergency telephone systems are in place that call residents about evacuation levels. Of course, cell phones, at least in areas where there is coverage, have increased the level and immediacy of communications.

This North Star Fire community meeting was held at Aeneas Valley General Store. The residents received  support from the local fire department, Okanogan National Forest and the Southwest Area Team.
This North Star Fire community meeting was held at Aeneas Valley General Store. The residents received support from the local fire department, Okanogan National Forest and the Southwest Area Team.
What a difference 25 years makes. We, the communities and families impacted by the fires crave information. It helps us plan, find resources and just feel a measure of control in an out of control situation. The state, local and national fire information officers from multiple agencies do an amazing job making sure families and communities are informed.

I hope they realize that their efforts are immensely appreciated. It is scary to be on the edge of a fire and it is even more frightening when you have no idea what is happening. Thank you.

Shift change meetings keep crews informed
Shift change meetings keep crews informed
For fire crews, information is a critical key to safety and planning. Fire crews rely on knowing about fire behavior, weather forecasts, available equipment, and the numbers and locations of crews and residents. Crews attend information meetings at the beginning of their shifts so they have an idea about what the fire is doing that day and what the strategies are.

The information is gathered by a variety of personnel including air crews who do fly overs to map heat sources.The maps are shared with crews and in many places available to the communities. Our families in Southern Oregon and are distant relatives were on-line checking for updates, sometimes within minutes, of the posting of the new day’s fire maps.

One of the most informative sites with fires updates from most states is INCIWEB at http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/maps/4426/

Throughout the Stouts Fire the public could access information bulletins and videos about the planning that was occurring out of our sight. Contingency Planning, for example, on the Stouts Fire included developing the plans and sharing the plans with all the crews and the community. Information officers prepared instructional videos they posted on Facebook for the community. Those videos eased the worries of community members and distant relatives and friends. Information is security.

A moment of silence at a North Star Fire meeting for the fallen firefighters at the Twisp Fire
A moment of silence at a North Star Fire meeting for the fallen firefighters at the Twisp Fire
Sometimes the meetings are somber reminders of the danger these fires present everyday. Across the nation this year moments of silence were held for the fire fighters who died helping others including the three who died in the Twips Fire.

Remembering
Remembering
Our hearts go out to your families, friends and crew.

GIVING MEDICAL SUPPORT

AMR ambulance crew from Northern Oregon stood ready to evacuate any injured Stouts fire crew members.
AMR ambulance crew from Northern Oregon stood ready to evacuate any injured Stouts fire crew members.
Fires are dangerous. Wildland fires are especially so as the areas can be inaccessible, steep and far from hospitals. Base camp and field placed emergency crews are deployed to increase safety and response time. Emergency personnel and equipment often come from various districts throughout the state and region when a wildfire occurs.

Lebanon Fire Department on alert  at Stouts Fire
Lebanon Fire Department on alert at Stouts Fire
It is not unusual to see fire trucks and ambulances with logos from distant towns and even out of state, especially with the number of wildfires this year.

I have communicated with some of their families back home to let them know how much I appreciated their loved ones taking time to help communities and the fire crews working there. Like the fire crews, the emergency workers are missing birthdays, soccer games and first days of school to help on fires all over the west. Their willingness and skills mean better safety for folks they do not even know.

Stouts Fire August 16 ·
One such emergency worker is Jim Rice with West Valley Fire District. He was the Medical Unit Leader. According to a press release from the Stouts fire, “Medics both in camp and on the line at the ‪#‎StoutsFire‬ were critical to the general health and well being of firefighters. They were always prepared to deal with a more serious injury that could happen to firefighters engaged in dangerous work.”

MANAGING DANGER – UTILITY CREWS
stouts fire community meeting I was attending a Stouts Fire community meeting when I got a first glimpse of the vital role of utility workers. It wasn’t just about restoring down lines and power. A fire crew leader pointed to a fire map. There were areas where fire fighters were battling uphill runs. In the middle, he said, were live electrical lines that posed extra danger in an already dangerous area.

He introduced a representative from Pacific Power. The Rep explained that they did targeted shut downs of the grid so fire crews could work safely. The trick was to do it selectively so communities and fire bases were impacted as little as possible.

Utility crews clear roads during a fire. AP Photo Elaine Thompson
Utility crews clear roads during a fire. AP Photo Elaine Thompson
During the fire roads need to be cleared quickly for fire fighting and emergency rescue access and safety. Utility crews who are mobilized, again from many regions, are an essential part of the fire fighting team and are so appreciated by all of us.Thank you so much.

MISSED PART ONE? CLICK HERE TO READ IT

index of all posts related to the wildfires of 2015

UPCOMING
PART THREE: After the Fire, stories of the other Heroes we may not see
Clean up crews
Communities helping each other
PART FOUR: How communities are helping each other and saying thank you

(1) http://earthsky.org/earth/2015-wildfire-season-is-record-breaker
(2) http://en.es-static.us/upl/2015/09/drought-monitor-9-1-2015-e1442844118994.png

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