Incident command moves to fairgrounds
Jefferson County Fairgrounds manager Brian Crow got a call at 7 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, asking if the incident command team for the P-515 and Lionshead fires in Warm Springs could set up camp.
By 9 a.m., the staff was moving in.
"We set up little towns in a day," said Howard Hunter, one of Team 7's public information officers.
Halls that normally display fair exhibits have tables set up with laptops, printers, boxes of Emergen-C and coffee pots. Barns have palettes of everything from hoses to coolers. Ordering staff make sure everything is accounted for, and the finance team keeps the bills paid.
Chairs are set up on a concrete pad with 6 feet between them for meetings.
Meals are prepared in a semi-trailers for the more than 500 people working in some way or other on the two fires.
But instead of firefighters spending their nights at the camp and getting showers in Bishop Services' 15-stall semi-trailer, they are staying in remote camps to limit the spread of COVID-19 should a firefighter be infected.
Max Yager, the logistics section chief, estimated there were 100 people at the fairgrounds and about 380 in the field on Friday, and more were coming.
"We're doing everything we can virtually," said Hunter said.
The staff is appreciative of the buildings.
"Oftentimes, we're in a dusty, dry field," Hunter said. Computers get covered in dust.
The team was originally set up in a field in Warm Springs, but Hunter said it became clear that the site could be compromised.
So they needed a place with lots of parking, office space and room for tents, Yager said.
Since there were no events due to COVID-19, the fairgrounds met the team's needs.
"The bad news is, we're a long way from the fire," he said. "The good news is, the firefighters aren't."
Keeping the camps running
Hunter's baseball camp sports two round stickers. Each day he gets one with a different color, proof that he doesn't have a fever.
Division supervisors and strike team leaders are the only people who are moving from camp to camp.
Food and supplies, which are prepared at the fairgrounds, are taken to drop points in the field.
The same team was in Lakeview about four weeks ago.
"We got a lot of the kinks out," Hunter said. "This is all running smooth."
GIS staff has their own trailer, as do the two information technology staff, where they make sure communications are working.
Repeaters have been set up so teams of firefighters have clear signals, and local internet services aren't affected.
Briefings are being held by radio and Zoom.
The communications team is getting the word out about the fires via press releases, social media and video briefings, and they added Warm Springs resident Javin Dimmick to the crew.
"He had all this local knowledge," Hunter said.
Operations is directing actions in the field, and new maps are made every day.
The operations team starts work at 9 p.m., creating a detailed plan for the next day with objectives and assignments based on the weather and models run by the fire behavior specialist. Two pages of the daily plan is dedicated to regulations relating to COVID-19.
Incident commander Eric Knerr said COVID-19 precautions have meant spacing of crews. Having firefighters at remote camps instead puts other strains on the system.
"That leads to a lot more support," including logistical and communications support, Knerr said.
"We're here to take care of the firefighters and the community," Knerr said. COVID-19 adds another layer to that work.
While the facilities are working well, other fires are creating a demand for limited supplies and personnel.
"It is really hard to get resources we need to support the fires," Yager said.
While there is some air support, there isn't as much as normal because there are so many fires happening at once, Hunter said. "They fly above and make sure people don't get in each other's way."
The Oregon National Guard brought in Blackhawk helicopters over the weekend to help with the effort.
And Yager is appreciative of the work Crow and others have done to make the team feel welcome and get what they need.
"We really appreciate their hospitality," he said.
Knerr echoed that.
"The fire team and the firefighters are guests in the community," he said.
"What people don't realize is that we exist for so much more than just to put on an annual fair," Crow said. "Our county fairgrounds is an evacuation center for the Red Cross, a reunification zone for Jefferson County Schools, we serve as a distribution hub for our Public Health Department, and we frequently house fire fighting crews. This county fairgrounds is a crucial asset to our community, and we are more than happy to serve."
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