Men part of county fire task force

Four Canby firefighters found themselves flung into the battle against the Rowena wildfire earlier this month.

Firefighters Todd Gary, Matt Dale, Damian Peters and Jason Wanner were dispatched to help fight the blaze. They took Canby Engine 65 with them.

The fire started Tuesday, Aug. 5, and ate up more than 3,680 acres over the next several days. About 610 firefighters were called in to battle the flames.

The Canby firefighters were part of the Clackamas County task force dispatched to the fire. It also included men and equipment from Clackamas County Fire, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Estacada and Gladstone.

“We had four fire engines, four men each and one water tender,” Gary said.

Canby and the other Clackamas County units were brought into play when Gov. John Kitzhaber employed the conflagration act, Gary said. That’s when mutual aid companies there are overwhelmed and they call for further outside agencies, he said. The county fire defense board chief puts everything together.

“We have an hour from the time he calls to be out to the staging area and at the fire.”

“We ended up on the night shift,” Gary said. “We were working all night and trying to sleep during the day.”

One day, they were called out about 2 p.m. when their task force was needed on the fire line.

“It was one of those fires we worked very hard and slept very little in the four days we were there.”

The Clackamas County firefighters were sent to protect homes in the Foley Lake area, which were under a Level 3 (Go) evacuation.

The firefighters prepared for the fire as best they could, Gary said. “We mitigated the fuel,” he said. “We got rid of as much fuel around the homes as possible.”

When it arrived, the fire front, fed by winds, ate through the area.

“We had 30 mph sustained winds, just moving that fire. There’s nothing you’re going to do with that fire,” Gary said.

When the fire came through, they attacked the hot spots. They also did handwork with shovels and the Pulaski, a special hand tool combining an axe and a mattock in one head.

“You keep the fuel away, keep it from burning the homes,” Gary said. “If something catches fire, you put it out.”

A file of firewood caught fire behind one house. They extinguished it and moved the wood a safer distance.

When they came back the next night, one home had been destroyed, seven damaged and 50 saved.

Eventually firefighters got the upper hand of the Rowena wildfire and the Clackamas County task force was demobilized Saturday afternoon (Aug. 9).

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