Columbia County to help battle blazes in California
UPDATED 11/15/18: Columbia County firefighters are part of a mobilization unit that was deployed last week to assist with fighting a deadly blaze in California that continues to ravage the region.
A Columbia County task force was sent to the Butte County area on Friday, Nov. 9, to assist with firefighting efforts on the Camp Fire, which is the deadliest wildfire on record for the state.
The task force is made up of firefighters from Columbia River Fire & Rescue, Scappoose Fire District, Clatskanie, Clatsop and Gearhart Fire.
The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal activated its emergency mobilization plan last week after receiving a request from California through the national state-to-state mutual aid program, called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. The state fire marshal began mobilizing 15 strike teams from the throughout the state to assist. Crews from Columbia, Rouge Valley, Klamath, Douglas, Lane, Marion, Linn, Benton, Lincoln, Polk, Washington, Multnomah, Clatsop, Clackamas, and Yamhill counties were mobilized.
"Once again, our neighbors in California are in need of support, and even though Oregon had a very long fire season, our Oregon Fire Service has stepped up humbly to help the state of California," State Fire Marshal Jim Walker stated in a press release Friday, Nov. 9.
The Camp Fire, which flared up Thursday, Nov. 8, has now covered more than 135,000 acres, is threatening thousands of structures, has forced people to evacuate and has claimed the lives of a record 56 civilians and injured three firefighters, as of Thursday morning, according to information from CalFire. The previous most deadly fire in California is the Griffith Park Fire of 1933, which claimed the lives of 29 people.
The Camp Fire continues to burn and was 40 percent contained as of Thursday morning, Nov. 15.
Columbia County firefighters on the task force have mobilized three other times this year, being sent to fight blazes in Oregon and California. Their work has often been in structure protection and helping contain fire lines.
During their time in California, the crews have been worked to secure utilities and putting out hotspots, according to reports from CRFR. Crews have also been searching for and assisting victims displaced by the fires or, in some cases, stranded in remote areas where transportation is limited.
CRFR's volunteer coordinator Jennifer Motherway has been corresponding with crews to get updates.
"They are finding massive devastation of homes, animals, and more. (Chief Eric Smythe) was trying to paint a picture and said 'imagine the entire town of Longview completely burned to the ground to get an idea on the size', and explained there are probably 30,000 people in the town of Paradise, and nearly 85% of the town is completely destroyed," Motherway stated in an email Thursday morning.
Over the weekend, Columbia River Fire and Rescue Lt. Greg Brody worked with a resident of the city of Paradise, about 88 miles north of Sacramento, to reunite a homeowner with his cat after the family was forced to evacuate.
The Columbia County crew is expected to be mobilized for at least two weeks. Motherway said the crews will likely stay through their full deployment due the limited resources and extensive damage caused by the blaze.