Alert goes out to fire cadre: all who qualified put on standby for firefighting
August 08, 2000
By PAUL FATTIG
If you have a firefighter’s red card and work for Uncle Sam, chances are you are either battling a blaze or could soon be marching out to the smoky front lines.
More than 100 federal employees and 300 private contract firefighters from the region have been deployed to battle fires throughout the West, from Eastern Oregon to Montana.
Although both the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have retained a cadre of firefighters locally, they also have notified additional employees who carry red cards — indicating they are qualified to fight fires — to be prepared.
“The people on standby include everybody — wildlife biologists, foresters, soil hydrologists, staff people,” said Tom Murphy, fire manager for the BLM’s Medford District. “They are all volunteers who have been trained to fight fires.”
Two dozen district employees are now on standby status.
The call for all available firefighters has even reached the Crater Lake National Park. The National Park Service has sent out a notice to employees holding red cards to be ready in case they are needed on distant fire lines, said Mac Brock, a park spokesman.
“We’ve received a directive that qualified personnel may be called out,” he said. “But we will still keep a contingency fire crew in the park. We also have a mutual-aid agreement with other agencies.”
The BLM district already has dispatched 27 of its employees as part of a mutual-aid effort to battle distant fires, joining 68 firefighters from the Siskiyou National Forest and 21 from the Rogue River National Forest.
And more than 15 20-person private contract crews from the region are now fighting fires throughout the West.
“If we were to get anything other than an initial attack fire in the forest, we’d be stretched real thin,” acknowledged Phil Cardin, fire dispatcher at the Rogue River National Forest’s Medford Fire Center.
“Our concern is that we could get into a lightning-bust situation in which we are dealing with multiple starts,” added Shelly Hoffer, fire dispatch manager at the Grants Pass Interagency Fire Center.
Both federal agencies have initial attack crews at the ready, backed by “severity task forces” that will go into action should local fires break out. They would be backed up by firefighting aircraft, pumpers and bulldozers.
Statistically, officials said, about 95 percent of fires on federal land are stopped during the initial attack by fire crews.
“They are in place, ready to go,” Cardin said.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Forestry, whose firefighters protect state, county, private and BLM wildlands, has retained nearly its full compliment.
In addition to 30 permanent employees, the agency’s Southwest Oregon District has 110 seasonal firefighters on hand. The district includes Jackson and Josephine counties.
“We’re fine — we’re looking OK right now,” said district forester Jeff Schwanke, adding that only four firefighters from the district have been temporarily dispatched to other areas.
The ODF has several fire stations throughout the region, from the Green Springs to Williams.
While there have been a few human-caused fires popping up in southern Oregon, the public has done a good job of preventing fires, he said.
Still, fire danger is now extreme, he noted.
“And they are predicting the potential of lightning all this week,” Schwanke said of local weather forecasters.