▶️ Paramedics and EMTs wanted: Worker shortage impacts emergency services

A shortage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics has reached crisis levels.

Emergency medical service workforce shortages are threatening public health and jeopardizing timely responses to health care emergencies.

According U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, 11% of EMTs, paramedics and health technicians will leave the emergency medical services industry this decade. That’s the highest rate of departure from all occupations in the national economy.

“All of health care is suffering from burnout and it’s not surprising,” said Dave Schappe, EMS Programs Director at Central Oregon Community College. “What I have seen is a lot of people who delayed retirement, have retired. We are all exhausted after two years of dealing with the pandemic and for those who have that option, they are taking it.”

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Central Oregon Community College offers a robust first responder training program that has graduated and placed hundreds of EMTs and paramedics.

Lately, most students have job offers before they graduate.

“The shortage has caused a number of students to rush through their internships, the final phase of paramedic education,” Schappe said. “We had a number of students that needed to be finished by August 1 or 15. It’s unusual for so for many of them to have paramedic jobs waiting for them when they got out.”

The Bend Fire Department recently hired 14 new EMTs, paramedics and firefighters.

Drew Norris, Bend Fire’s EMS chief, says the number of applicants has decreased by more than half the past three years, yet the demand for paramedics and other EMS providers is increasing.

“Every coin has two sides, and the other side of this coin is every one is getting a job. The students who are finishing up now, they’ve all been offered jobs in the valley at private agencies. Some have taken them, some haven’t. Some want to come back to Central Oregon and practice in this region but the jobs are out there for them. No question,” Schappe said.

Individual agencies are doing all that they can to bolster the pipeline, from creative partnerships with community colleges like the training COCC provides to offering sign-on bonuses and incentive pay.

The Oregon State Fire Chiefs and Oregon State Ambulance associations say they will partner with legislators on creative solutions during the 2023 legislative session.

▶️ Crooked River drops to 10 cfs; fish concentrate in few remaining deep pools

The Crooked River below Bowman Dam is flowing at 10 cubic feet per second, stranding fish in a few remaining deep pools.

Imagine going to the grocery store and 90% of the shelves are bare. That’s a rough equivalent of what’s going on in the Crooked River where the flows have dropped to 10 cfs in the past six days.

“Obviously with less flow you are going to have less food. You are going to have the same number of fish but dramatically less food,” said Yancy Lind, a concerned angler who writes the Central Oregon Informed Angler blog.

“If you have dramatically less water moving at fundamentally slower speeds, same number of fish, they are going to run out of oxygen.”

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Low water, high temps threaten Crooked River fish

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There is increased predation of fish that are easier to catch in the shallow water by birds and otters, as well as anglers who continue to fish when the ethics of doing so are in doubt.

Another factor working against Crooked River fish is the temperature of the water. As of Thursday, air temperature and water temperature were the same at 64 degrees.

“When the water is this thin or shallow, air temperature and water temperature will be similar,” Lind said. “If it gets up to 80 next week like its projected to be, then you are up in the lethal range for both native red band trout and mountain whitefish.”

Lind predicts a large decline in fish abundance in the Crooked River that could take years to recover. That’s assuming abundant precipitation for several consecutive years.

“What we have right now is a set of laws that are inflexible and allow this kind of things to happen without any consideration for recreation or fish and wildlife or any of the other things that drive our local economy,” Lind said.

The low flows will continue until November 1 when they are expected to rise to at least 50 cfs, which will be a minor improvement.

▶️Weekend rain helps with direct attack on Cedar Creek Fire, but danger remains

Up to half an inch of rain and hail fell on the Cedar Creek Fire over the weekend. That helped moderate fire behavior.

But the fight is far from over.

Most of the areas where the fire is considered contained are east of Waldo Lake and west of the Cascade Lakes Highway.

“The rain will help us, but if we aren’t very methodical about catching all the heats, as soon as it dries out again, it can start moving,” said Morgan Rigney, a hotshot firefighter from Mormon Lake, Arizona. 

RELATED: Cedar Creek Fire now 113,000 acres; See the new fire progression map

The weekend rains dampened the ground about two-inches deep, but the fire is burning through layers of debris that are still dry. 

When the heat hits a tree, it flares to life above ground.

“To put it fully, out we’ll get some water in here, keep stirring it up. It will be a several days to weeklong process to fully mop it up,” Rigney said.

Down the road closer to the Cascade Lakes Highway, crews are busy creating shaded fuel breaks by cutting back dense stands of lodgepole pine trees, effectively widening the fuel break the roads represent.

“Here we are creating a fuel break, clearing out ladder fuels and taking out a majority of the fuel within 50 feet of the buffer,” said Travis Surplus, firefighter. “That’s to prevent fire from bumping this line and, if we need to, do a back burn off this line.”

Crews continue to work to create fuel breaks between Odell Lake, Davis Lake, and the Cascade Lakes Highway. 

Between Little Cultus Lake and Deer Lake, crews are brushing, chipping and removing snags to protect Cultus Mountain from future fire advancement. 

Crews have made miles of fuel breaks along roads on the east flank of the Cedar Creek Fire and they will continue to do so until the fire is fully contained.

▶️ Crooked River flows dropping to 10 cubic feet per second

Due to extreme drought and the end of irrigation season, water levels in the Crooked River near Prineville are falling fast.

Reductions of flows to less than 10% of what they are today will continue through the weekend.

There’s already a lot of exposed riverbed on the Crooked River and there will be a lot more by Monday when flows are forecast to drop to 10 cubic feet per second.

The river was flowing at 160 cfs Thursday afternoon. The drop will have big impacts on the river environment.

“In the past they used to drop to 10 cfs almost routinely and it’s tough on the fish when it gets down low,” said Scott Hudson from Bend.

He was fishing the river below Bowman Dam Thursday and catching a few.

“You don’t get the size of the fish. You get lots of fish but you don’t get the size. The bigger fish are going to suffer.”

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Ochoco Irrigation District is ramping down the flows from Prineville Reservoir over a period of days.

The goal of the gradual flow reductions is to avoid stranding fish and other aquatic wildlife. But some critters, such as freshwater snails, may not be able to move fast enough.

“This is where I normally come for a quick getaway to cast a fly,” said Mike Green, Bend. “I might go to the upper Deschutes or to the Fall River. Those are two options near Bend, and the lakes are also an option.”

One local fly shop has stopped guiding fishing trips on the Crooked to give the fish a fighting chance at surviving in the rapidly shrinking river.

“I don’t think we can fish it at 10 cfs. I wouldn’t anyway,” Hudson said. “You can catch fish but it’s tough on the fish. They’ll be stressed. I’ll likely go somewhere else.”

We checked with local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offices. They said they are petitioning the state to issue a fishing closure when the flows drop to 10 cfs. 

Anglers need to watch for that official announcement which could happen as soon as next week.

▶️ ‘Very grateful to be open’: Eastside Bend Safeway is back open for business

The Safeway store on Bend’s eastside reopened Wednesday, more than two weeks after a shooting that led to the deaths of an employee and a customer.

Just a few people entered the store when the doors first opened Wednesday morning. They passed mobile security trailers with blue flashing lights that announced they were on private property and were being videotaped. 

Workers on scissor lifts posted a “Now Open, Stronger Together” banner on the storefront.

“It’s very well stocked. There was an officer going in the door. Very friendly. We visited. There’s attendants everywhere,” said Linda Victorine of Culver.

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Foot traffic increased during the morning commute. Within a couple of hours, the parking lot was full with people heading into the store and others loading groceries into their cars.

“Even the guys in the meat department waving, saying ‘Hi. How are you doing? Thanks for coming in,” said Victorine “They are very grateful to be open and I’m very grateful that these folks have their jobs and that we are all coming in to support them because I think that’s really important right now.”

The store interior is freshly painted and there’s new floor treatments.

“It’s so convenient for us,” said Rick Arnold of Bend. “We live about two miles away. It’s close by. I like the bank services with U.S. Bank being in there and we pick up what we need. I am very glad to see it reopen.”

Security is top of mind for some. One person we spoke with said she asked security guards where the exits are so she would know which way to leave in an emergency.

Employee Donald Surrett, 66, and customer Glenn Bennett, 84, were killed in the Aug. 28 shooting. Police say Surrett hid behind a produce cart, armed with a knife, in an effort to disarm the suspect.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Removing invasive fish species from Crane Prairie

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is making a concerted effort to remove as many brown Bullhead Catfish as possible from Crane Prairie Reservoir. 

The goals are to benefit the native Red Band Rainbow Trout Fishery, which anglers come from all over the world to enjoy, and encourage the endangered spotted frog population.

“In 2019 and 2021, we had a smaller effort, but we we trapped over 10,000 pounds of bullhead out in both years,” said Jerry George, District Fish Biologist the Deschutes Watershed. “We are getting good numbers and good biomass of fish out of crane. But it’s one of those things where we think it’s going to take kind of an ongoing, concerted effort.”

What if ODFW did nothing?

“Bullhead are just a generalist predator. And so they tend to upset the balance of these lake ecosystems,” George said. “We’ve had lakes like the Twin Lakes, where we had the trout fishery collapse because of Bullhead introductions in the past. So if they’re not held in check or removed, then they can it can just lead to really poor trout survival and poor trout production of fisheries.”

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Low water, high temps threaten Crooked River fish

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Brown Bullhead are the latest in a long list of non-native fish, accidentally or intentionally introduced into the high Cascade Lakes.

Tui Chub and Stickleback Minnows led the invasion decades ago, probably as live bait used by anglers. Later, introductions of largemouth bass, bluegills and catfish likely were placed here by anglers who decided they wanted their favorite sport fish close to home. 

Transporting fish is illegal and, in my opinion, amounts to environmental terrorism against native species.

“The non-native fish that have been introduced are either predators of juvenile red band trout or they’re competitors for food resources with Red Band,” said George. “Though, in the case of the Bullhead, they’re kind of direct predators of a Red Band trial fry and Juvenile Red Band. In the case of some of the other species like Bluegill, Stickleback they;re more competitors for food resources. So when you have more species introduced, then there’s just more competition and less overall food for for producing trout.”

For the past few years, biology student interns have been hired to help with the Bullhead control effort. The interns check in empty nets set in the shallows three times a week. They quantify and measure the catch and extract stomach samples from the largest catfish. 

“The bulk of our time is spent here, but we’ve done other things,” said Oregon State University student-intern Alex Seibert. “We’ve done electrofishing and stream sampling and macro invertebrates. And so we’re able to apply a lot of these things that we’re learning in classrooms and actually go out and do it physically. And getting paid in the meantime is also pretty nice.”

“We monitor Crane pretty heavily because it’s one of our more important fisheries in the region,” said George. “We do a lot of spawning surveys in the spring to try to understand in particular the number of wild fish that we have spawning in the tributaries, the Crane Prairie. And so we kind of track it through time in terms of spawning numbers and had pretty good spawning numbers in the last couple of years. And so the whole head trapping isn’t kind of a reaction to any decline that we’ve seen. It’s just kind of being proactive and trying to tilt the balance in favor of our native species.”

Crane Prairie is not a good candidate for chemical treatment to remove invasive species because native fish would be killed in the process. Also, this large lake has miles of shallow areas, underwater springs and currents where invasive fish could escape chemical treatment and resume their conquest of the habitat. 

“We probably average between like 150-200 a day, I’d say,” said Seibert. “And I can’t do the math that quickly, but definitely in the thousands, but not quite as many as the past few years, which is hopefully a good sign. That means that numbers are getting lower and lower annually. So that’s a good sign of the work that we’re doing, actually being good and helping out the environment around here.”

The public can help by catching and removing as many bullheads and bluegills as they’d like. There’s no limits on them and they are good eating. They just don’t belong in Crane Prairie, where they could ruin one of Oregon’s best trout fisheries and damage a stronghold of endangered spotted frogs.

▶️ Classic celestial time tracker now on display at Sunriver Observatory

The latest and greatest exhibit in the Oregon Observatory in Sunriver is an old school celestial time tracker.

The device was handmade by the Beacham Clock Company in Sisters and is the only one of its kind on public display. The rest are in private collections.

Master clock maker Ed Beacham from Sisters built 12 gear-driven celestial time trackers in 2017, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse.

He sold 11 of them to private collectors for $5,000 apiece.

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Celestial Time Piece

Thanks to donors, the last one is now on display in the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center.

“We had to make over 5,000 parts. I have three milling machines and we had all three of them running everyday. It took a lot of parts and pieces,” Beacham said.

Celestial time trackers are mechanical models of the solar system used to illustrate or predict the motions of the planets and moons.

Celestial Time Piece

The device represents the solar system as it was understood in the 1700s when only the planets that were visible to the naked eye were known.

Even without all the planets, it’s still a useful tool and a masterpiece of gears and woodwork.

“They can physically see without using a computer screen how the planets are lined up and how they relate to the earth and the moon,” said Bob Grossfeld, Manager of Space Sciences at the Oregon Observatory. “This is going to be a great tool for helping people understand why we see Venus in phase.”

Observatory managers say the newly constructed but very old technology celestial time tracker will be a useful physical and visual tool to explain an eclipse that will be visible in 2023.

Celestial Time Piece

▶️ Cascade Lakes Highway being used as a fuel break against Cedar Creek Fire

A second incident command was established at Mt. Bachelor over the weekend to manage the east side of the Cedar Creek Fire.

One of many strategies being considered is using the Cascade Lakes Highway as a fuel break to prevent the fire from running east toward La Pine.

Preparing the highway to function as a fuel break means the corridor will look very different whether fire reaches it or not.

Crews are cutting back the trees 100 feet west of the Cascade Lakes Highway near Cultus Lake to expand the fuel break the road represents.

RELATED: Cedar Creek Fire growth slows dramatically; Some evacuation levels lowered

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Expanding the fuel break is an indirect and safer way of fighting the large and complex Cedar Creek Fire that has burned to within three miles of the highway.

“One of the things we can do is try to set up in that Highway 46 corridor is to thin it out,” said Chuck Russell, Deputy Incident Commander Alaska Team. “It’s not going to be up in the crown. Then, if the fire continues to move that direction and forces our hand, then we are going to have to light off it.” 

The idea of lighting a backfire along the highway is to deprive the Cedar Creek Fire of running through the crowns of trees, throwing off spot fires beyond the fuel break.

Cedar Creek Fire Cascade Lakes Highway

Another strategy being implemented is to thin vegetation and place sprinklers around the lodges at Cultus Lake, Crane Prairie Reservoir and Lava Lakes to protect them in case the fire breaks through containment lines.

“Let’s say for example that it was marching toward 46. Do we have time to complete the line? Get everything in place to burn it out before it crosses 46? That’s just a scenario,” Russell said. “If we don’t think we have time for that than what we do is go to the values at risk and do point protection around them and try to save those individual structures and communities that may be in its path.”

RELATED: Sno-parks close to make room for crews working the Cedar Creek Fire

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Even as hundreds of firefighters muster at Mount Bachelor to attack the Cedar Creek fire from the east, the Cascade Lakes Highway remains closed to ensure public safety and the safety of firefighters.

“If we were to get the crews, get the weather and right situation where we can keep firefighters safe, we are going to switch back and go direct. We haven’t written off anything. We will continue to formulate our plan and pick the strategy that’s going to be the most successful.”

Closures on the east side of the Cedar Creek Fire extend fire beyond the Cascade lakes highway south of Hosmer Lake.

The Sunrise Lodge and parking areas at Mount Bachelor have been taken over as a command post.

Three sno parks on Century Drive between Bend and Mount Bachelor including Wanoga, Edison and Virginia Meissner are being used as equipment staging and camping for firefighters.

▶️ Cedar Creek evacuation update: Level 2 for some areas around Twin Lakes

UPDATE: The area around South and North Twin Lakes west of Forest Road 4262 including Twin Lakes Lodge, Gull Point Campground, North Wickiup Campground and Sheep Bridge Campground have all been placed on Level 2 evacuation status.  

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The Cedar Creek Fire that began some five weeks ago near Waldo Lake has burned onto the Deschutes National Forest and is forcing evacuations. 

Level 3 “Go Now” notices were issued for Cultus Lake Tuesday night. The evacuation area was expanded to include Crane Prairie Reservoir and a 30-mile stretch of the Cascade Lakes Highway. 

See the list of evacuation orders as of 4:00 p.m. Wednesday

Boat owners who rent moorage at Cultus Lake Resort were informed late Tuesday night to remove their boats. Wednesday morning, we watched several people leave the area while fire crews rushed in to protect Cultus Lake Resort.

“It looks like, from what we heard from the Forest Service, it burned Irish-Taylor last night and is burning its way down to Little Cultus,” said Pete Robertson, Bend. “From what they said, all they can do is try to protect Cultus Lake Lodge.” 

RELATED: Updated ‘Go Now’ evacuations include long stretch of Cascade Lakes Highway

RELATED: Earlier, aggressive attack on Cedar Creek Fire not necessarily possible

Wednesday afternoon, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office issued a “Go Now” evacuation notice for all campgrounds around Crane Prairie Reservoir, the northwest side of Wickiup reservoir and areas south of the 6 Lakes Trails and Little Lava Lake.

Cedar Creek Fire Brasada Ranch
Cedar Creek fire from Powell Butte (Brasada Ranch) on Sept. 7, 2022. (CREDIT: Tom Credelle)

The Cascade Lakes Highway is closed from Deschutes Bridge all the way south to the Klamath County line.

There were no evacuation notices in place when I visited Crane Prairie Reservoir Wednesday morning but resort staff were taking precautions by starting up their 40 year old fire truck.

“Getting our game plan of what we need. Getting our fire truck ready. Filling it with water,” said Zach Burns, Crane Prairie Resort. “Making sure we have a steady ear to the ground so we know what to do if things go south so that we can inform everybody on what’s going on and get people out of here and get our boats and everything out.

Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation notices are now in effect for Lucky Butte, Williamson Mountain, Winopee, Snowshoes, Senoj, Big Finger, Upper Snowshoes, Long, Puppy, Leech, Goldeney and Lucky Lakes. Late Wednesday, the Level 2 was extended to the area around South and North Twin Lakes west of Forest Road 4262 including Twin Lakes Lodge, Gull Point Campground, North Wickiup Campground and Sheep Bridge Campground.

Areas around the Lava Lakes are on Level 1 “Get Ready” notice.

“It’s going to be heartbreaking to go back there and see it’s all black,” Robertson said.

▶️ Labor Day visitors not deterred by smoke from Cedar Creek Fire

Heavy smoke and close proximity to fires did not deter Labor Day weekend visitors to the Cascade lakes. 

“We were surprisingly busy. People still enjoyed the lake,” said Kate Dunn, Cultus Lake Resort owner. “The smoke tended to roll in and out. There were parts of the day it was fairly smoky and there were times it was clear as a bell. I think people still had a lot of fun up here.”

Matt Justason and his family camped for the weekend at Cultus Lake. He said the smell of smoke from the nearby Cedar Creek Fire was no more noticeable than his own campfire.

“The water is still nice and clear and cool. The beer still tastes good.”

“We went on the lake and we tubed. We went really fast. It was really fun,” said Justason’s children and cousins. “We went over some big waves. We made some forts out of wood.”

RELATED: Cedar Creek Fire closes some areas of Deschutes National Forest

RELATED: Cowboy Fire near Prineville stopped at 204 acres, evacuations dropped

“It was pretty smoked in right when we got here Saturday afternoon,” said Jack Powell from Portland. He waited to come up until it was clear the Oregon Ducks were going to lose their season opener to Georgia.

“We were on the fence. Should we stay? Should we go to Elk Lake where it’s not as smoky? We hung around for an hour and the smoke blew out so we decided to stay.”

I found Brian Schaffer cleaning a wake boat and preparing to tow it back to his business, Central Oregon Rentals. 

“We have jet skis. We have pontoon boats that were up here all weekend and nobody complained about anything. Sure, there was a little smoke off and on but for the most part nobody complained.”

The Cedar Creek Fire is eight air miles from Cultus Lake. 

There is a Level 1 “Get Ready” evacuation notice in effect on the west end of Cultus Lake. All those people who boat in to the west end campgrounds have been notified.

Numerous nearby trails and forest roads that head west from Cultus Lake toward Waldo Lake, including the Irish-Taylor Road, are closed due to growth of the Cedar Creek Fire.