In 2015, a witches’ brew of drought, hot weather and dry lightning spawned more than 2,000 wildfires across Oregon that consumed some 631,000 acres of forest and rangeland. In a massive coordinated effort, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and its local and federal partners fought back, stopping hundreds of new fire starts at small size and preventing many large blazes from growing into mega-fires.
The state’s wildland fire agencies have long recognized the need to work closely together. Oregon’s forest ownership pattern – a spider web of intermingled public and private lands – demands it. From that understanding developed the concept of a “complete and coordinated system” of fire protection. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, ODF and other wildland fire agencies seamlessly respond to wildfires. This approach reduces redundancy of fire suppression forces and provides more thorough coverage.
So, how did the system perform in 2015, the third severe fire season in as many years?
- ODF Incident management teams deployed eight times to support large fire incidents across the state. These teams worked together with several federal, state and local partners to accomplish common goals.
- Oregon National Guard supplied several helicopters and flight crews, other equipment and 375 personnel to form 18 fire hand crews.
- Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office (OSFM) provided three structural fire teams to safeguard homes and other developments. This freed up ODF teams to concentrate on containing the wildfires.
- Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) provided 330 inmates from 10 institutions to fight fire and support fire camp operations.
- Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) displayed prevention messages and road-closure information on highway reader boards to inform travelers.
- Personnel, equipment and aircraft came in from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, 27 states and two Canadian Provinces.
- The forest landowner community once again pulled together to assist by providing heavy equipment, skilled tree fellers and intermediate fire management.
- Private contractors provided 20-person firefighting hand crews for 165 fires in five states, working more than 8,500 crew-days.
Ron Graham, deputy chief of ODF’s Forest Protection Division, said, “A majority of the help came from companies, agencies and individuals whose primary jobs and duties are not fire emergency-related. Through coordination and training, ODF was able to use their unique skills, abilities and knowledge to fill critical fire positions.”
He extended thanks to all ODF staff as well as the agency’s many partners in the complete and coordinated system, along with their families, and to all Oregonians for their contribution to the 2015 firefighting effort.