By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
A task force of eleven local firefighters returned late Tuesday night, after saving a number of homes from the White River Fire burning east of Mount Hood.
The fire has consumed more than 16,000 acres and is only 10% contained but, thankfully, no homes have been lost.
The task force consisting of firefighters, brush rigs and water tenders from the Alfalfa, Bend, Black Butte, Redmond and Sunriver fire departments left Friday, August 28th.
They were assigned the night shift protecting homes on either side of the White River Canyon through which the fire rapidly spread.
Strong winds pushed the fire up out of the canyon toward four houses that Captain Josh Clark and crew were protecting.
“It was pretty active fire behavior for 3 to 4 in the morning. It was in grass primarily, there wasn’t a lot of brush and timber near the homes. So flame lengths were tolerable and easily dealt with,” said Clark, a Redmond Fire Department engineer and paramedic.
Clark says farmers helped by wetting down fields closest to the homes with spray trucks and letting fire crews pump water from stock ponds.
The fire got within a few hundred yards of homes.
“We woke up two families that were in threatened structures and had them leave,” said Dave Phillips, Task Force Commander. “I was really impressed with when we said go, they went. The ready part meant something to them. They had a horse trailer that was filled with whatever was valuable to them ”
When they weren’t actively fighting the fire, task force members triaged, and prepared threatened structures.
“We’ll mow the grass or borrow a weed eater and do what we can to get the grasses under control, do some chainsaw work to limb up the trees,” Clark said. “If needed, we’ll move firewood piles. We do whatever we can if we have the time.”
He said there’s nothing firefighters can do to protect a home that has no defensible space cleared around it, poor access and no place for firefighters to take shelter if things go sideways.
“Do your ready and preparation even before you have an incident,” Phillips said. “So that when we say ‘Get Ready’ you know what items you are going to take, have them loaded and when we say ‘Go’ you simply have to get dressed, get in the car and go.”