Through Senate Bill 762, the Oregon State Fire Marshal and Oregon Department of Forestry can order air assets through mutual aid agreements, mobilize resources through Immediate Response, and pre-position firefighters ahead of increased wildfire threat. In 2022, these tools have been successful in keeping fires small and away from communities.
“Frankly, our people have been kicking butt,” said the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Tim Holschbach, Deputy Chief of Policy and Planning for the Fire Protection Division.
As of August 15, ODF Districts had suppressed 418 fires, and held them to 582 acres total. The 10-year average for this point in the fire season is 590 fires and 56,121 acres burned.
“Although there is a possibility for holdover fires from the recent lightning to add fires to the map, ODF’s firefighters have been doing a remarkable job keeping them small,” Holschbach said.
More people have been the key to knocking out fires on lands the department is responsible for protecting.
“Investments into the wildfire protection system from Senate Bill 762 allowed us to not only hire additional season firefighters to increase response, but also additional full-time positions to increase response capacity year-round,” said Holschbach. “I can’t say how many millions of dollars in firefighting costs we have saved by being able to quickly suppress these fires—keeping them small, off the landscape and out of our communities.”
A big part of putting out wildfires is detecting them early and a key part of that effort is the multi-mission aircraft (MMA) that is in its third season of operation. This unique aircraft was made possible through an investment from the Oregon Forest Land Protection Fund—which consists of landowner dollars paid for fire protection each year.
“The MMA has state of the art thermal cameras that overlay that information through an augment reality mapping system,” said Jamie Knight, ODF State Aviation Operations Specialist. “This ‘eyes in the skies’ asset can then feed that information into a firefighting data base used state-wide called the State of Oregon Fire Situation Analyst system (SOFSA). Our dispatch centers around the state can see those maps and quickly send the best resources to attack the fire.”
Those resources can include ground-based firefighters and equipment, or one or more of the 27 aircraft on exclusive use contracts with the state. The mix of aircraft include eight tankers, five fixed wing detection/aerial supervision aircraft, along with 14 helicopters.
“We have one large tanker, typically based in Medford, Redmond, La Grande or Klamath Falls,” said Knight. “Five wheeled single engine aircraft that operate from smaller airfields like John Day and Prineville, and then we have two fire boss amphibious aircraft that can scoop up water from nearby lakes.”
The other 21 aircraft are based strategically at airfields around Oregon. Each fire district can request any available aircraft from around the state to aid in putting out fires. This aerial response is often key to reach hard to get at fires in remote areas.
“Our aircraft and other fighting equipment is decentralized to allow each of our fire districts to quickly respond to any fire,” said Holschbach. “But our most valuable asset is our people. They live and work in communities they protect, and they have been doing a great job this fire season.”
2022 Oregon State Fire Marshal Success Stories
July 2, 2022 – Klamath Co. Fire Dist. 1 requested aerial resources through the OSFM. A brush fire on Cross Road threatened 10 homes.
July 29, 2022 – The OSFM mobilized a task force from Lane County to be pre-positioned in Klamath County because of increased wildfire threat. The task force cross-trained with federal and local partners before being moved to Deschutes County. The Lane County task force was then mobilized to the Miller Road Fire in Wasco County where they helped with initial fire attack as eight other task forces and the OSFM’s Blue IMT mobilized.
July 29, 2022 – Jackson Co. Fire Dist. 3 requested aid on a structure fire that spread into nearby brush and grass. Firefighters were challenged by 110-degree temperatures and wind. Through Immediate Response, the OSFM coordinated with Fire District 3 to launch an ODF Southwest Oregon District helicopter. The helicopter made a big difference in slowing the fire.
Aug 2, 2022 – Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue requested aid on a structure fire at The Dalles Marina. The OSFM mobilized a strike team from Multnomah County through Immediate Response. Firefighters battled to protect several houseboats at the marina and extinguish spot fires on shore. The strike team was able to relieve the initial attack crews. Shortly after arrival, the team was able to get a brush fire near the marina under control.
Aug 2, 2022 – Air resources were ordered through Immediate Response and mobilized to the Miller Road Fire in Wasco County. These resources added both capacity and different tools to help slow and stop the fast-moving fire. In less than a week’s time, firefighters and the OSFM incident Management Team were able to contain the fire. In total, the fire burned 10,847 acres. Countless homes were threatened by the flames, but only one was lost.
Aug 4, 2022 – Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue requested aid on the Mile Post 87 Fire in The Dalles. The fire threatened homes and prompted several evacuations. ODOT closed a nearby off-ramp from I-84 and the 197 bridge was shut down. Power was also shut off to 660 customers.
Through Immediate Response, the OSFM mobilized ODF air resources and two structural task forces from the nearby Miller Road Fire to stop the fire. The fire was contained.
For more information on ODF’s firefighting efforts, visit ODF’s Wildfire Blog or follow them on ODF’s Facebook account.
For more information on OSFM’s firefighting efforts, visit OSFM’s Incident Information Blog.