Colton firefighters welcomed home from Bootleg fire
Two members of Colton Fire Protection District #70, Assistant Chief Mike Everhart and firefighter Nate Kulland, jumped into Brush Rig 336 on July 10 to head down to help fight the massive Bootleg wildland fire in Southern Oregon.
They answered the call for a 14-day deployment and joined with firefighters from Clackamas, Estacada and Hoodview to form a task force. The team members were welcomed back to their home stations on July 25.
The crew had been sent to the Ferguson Mountain area. Kulland said they had multiple assignments including a structure protection task force, where they checked structures for defensible space.
"We spent our first days assessing what was defensible and what wasn't," Kulland said. "It is difficult to make these decisions, especially when it comes to homes and structures. Looking to see what had defensible space, where we could build defensible space and where it would be safe for us to do so."
Kulland said they came across unpermitted structures and random houses that were not on their fire map making it difficult to know where to set up defensible space. He also noted that it is a large cattle ranching area with many ranch structures to protect and cattle grazing on both the ranch land and leased federal lands.
"In the 14 days we were there we did not lose a single structure," he said.
The task force that included the Colton firefighters, consisted of 10 wildland certified firefighters and two supervisors. They worked the night shift from 6 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. The crew would return to camp, eat breakfast and sleep until 3 p.m. Upon waking up they would do rig checks along with firefighting equipment and personal equipment checks. This was followed by a daily briefing, after which they headed to their assignment on the fire line.
"We would build containment lines and do burn out operations," Everhart said. "Burn out is a way to reduce fuels by igniting a fire that will burn back into the main fire and eliminate the vegetation fuels, creating a fire break."
"We would take forest service roads and basically clear all the brush, all the trees and dozer a 50- to 70-foot-wide road to clear the fuel and create a fire break," Everhart said. "There were times the fire would still jump across and we would lose the line and have to start again.
Everhart said the crew had to have faith in their training and in the process, and along with good leadership and clear instructions the group was able to stay calm and with their training were able to operate safely.
"We had three factors to deal with, fuels, terrain and weather and we could only address one of those.
The group was first stationed in the Bly area where they slept in a large tent and later moved to Paisley where the sleeping quarters was a 53-foot semi-trailer with bunk beds. Both sleeping units were air conditioned. Kulland explained that wildland personal protection equipment (PPE) firefighting gear is lighter weight than structure fire gear. It weighs approximately 15 pounds compared to structure fire gear that weighs about 60 pounds and makes it easier to work in wildland terrain.
A contracted food service brought breakfast, dinner and sack lunches for the firefighters.
"After two weeks with the same crew you develop a strong sense of camaraderie, Kulland said. "We could not have a better task force to work with."
According to Everhart the Colton firefighters are better prepared to fight wildland fires than ever with 12 members completing wildland fire academy. The station has increased the number of apparatus that are equipped for wildland terrain.
"We are in for a very long wildfire season," Everhart said. "It started two months early, it is hotter and drier so we are asking people to respect the burn bans and to be careful with outdoor power equipment."
Interim Colton Fire Chief, Todd Gary said that having the two members of Colton Fire join the strike team to fight the fire in Bootleg gave Colton Fire District a great opportunity for the district to give back to the state after all the rigs and crews from around the Oregon and the Northwest that responded to the local wildland fires of 2020.
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