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Leaders from Clackamas Fire said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get to know Estacada

COURTESY PHOTO - Leaders from Clackamas fire discussed the recent wildfires at a meeting of the Estacada Chamber of Commerce last week.

In the aftermath of the multiple wildfires that burned through the county last month, leaders from Clackamas Fire plan to facilitate additional crisis communication training for members of the organization.

"One of the biggest recurring themes from conversations with (community members) is the negative interactions with local operators and landowners. We did have a lot of positive interaction with our community members and did a lot of great work. But these feelings are real," Clackamas Fire Operations Chief Nick Browne said during a virtual Estacada Chamber of Commerce meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15. "In those areas where this happened, they flat out happened, and that is our fault that we had negative interactions with the public."

Browne noted that additional training on crisis communication will be provided to "the firefighter that comes in on day one, to the fire chief, to our administrative personnel."

"What happens when there is a crisis and you think someone is going to die, there's added stress from the catastrophe that we're facing," he said.

Browne added that a lack of familiarity with the Estacada community also contributed to difficulties while fighting the wildfires. The Estacada Rural Fire District is under a contract for service with Clackamas Fire, and citizens from both jurisdictions will vote on a merger next month. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for Clackamas Fire to perform their typical community outreach.

"We just didn't know the community. Any time we typically get into a partnership with the community we immerse ourselves into the community," he said. "We just plain and simple couldn't have it happen here with the pandemic we're facing."

After talking to Estacada residents, Browne said he realizes the resources that are available in Estacada.

"I was talking to George (Youngberg) and he said, 'Nick, you could have given me a call and I could have given you 13 water tenders'. . .I just didn't know," he continued. "Moving forward, what's going to be crucial to our progression and learning from this event is forming a partnership and forming a resource list."

Browne also explained some of the tactics used to contain the wildfires — which were significantly larger than the ones the organization typically responds to.

"The most important thing for us is life safety. Every incident we go on, that's the number one priority. Two is saving structures, and number three is saving farm fields and timber," he said. "The simple fact is we weren't able to get out of number one and number two. It was resource based, and it was the simple fact that we were stretched so thin, and we were playing catch up."

The wildfires Clackamas Fire typically responds to range between 10-20 acres, compared to

the 138,029 acre Riverside Fire, 1,509 acre Dowty Road Fire, 532 acre Wilhoit Fire, 497 acre Unger Fire and 46 acre Graves Creek Fire.

"We didn't just have one 10-20 acre fire. We had multiple fires in that capacity and actually 10 times bigger," he said.

Community meeting

Along with sharing information at the Estacada Chamber of Commerce meeting, Clackamas Fire hosted a virtual community meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Topics included wildfire response and the proposed merger with Estacada Fire. To view the meeting, click here.


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