The loss of two lives this season highlights the risks firefighters face
For a number of reasons, this fire season has been a success for agencies responding to wildfires in southern Oregon. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their diligence and hard work.
Fire crews this season have the benefit of new technology, including cameras that monitor lightning and others that monitor the wildland/urban interface where homes could be at risk of fires. The cameras allow incident commanders to know immediately which resources to send without having to wait for the first firefighters to arrive at the scene of the fire.
Fire officials also have the benefit of more money this year, thanks to the Oregon Legislature.
Senate Bill 762 has received considerable criticism for a wildfire risk map that still needs work, but that’s only part of the legislation. SB 762 also provided an increase in funding that allowed fire districts to add personnel: District 3, for example, can now deploy a wildland response unit each shift, which the funding made possible. The Oregon Forestry Department also added engines and planes.
All these improvements mean that fire agencies have to work harder when fires occur. But more equipment can only help if it is available when needed. When large fires break out in multiple locations at once, as happened in the 2020 Labor Day fires, resources are spread thin, and fires in remote forest locations can take second place to flames threatening homes and other structures.
So far this season, additional resources have been quickly deployed on every smoke that has been lit in the region. In the past week, aircraft and ground crews battled no less than 48 fires caused by lightning in Jackson and Josephine counties.
Of these, 17 had been completely extinguished by Friday morning.
The quick response and effective attacks were welcome, but not all the news was good. On Thursday, a 25-year-old firefighter from Talent lost his life when a tree struck him while battling the Rum Creek Fire near Galice. Logan Taylor, a fire company operator contracted with ODF, was the second firefighter killed this month in southern Oregon. A Michigan man died Aug. 10 while fighting a wildfire north of Crater Lake.
Two more firefighters have been evacuated from fire lines after suffering heat-related illness this season.
These victims are a tragic reminder that firefighting is a dangerous job. Firefighters come to life every time they respond to a new fire. Safety precautions are paramount for fire agencies, but best practices in the field can only go so far.
Our thanks to all who risk life and limb on the lines of fire, and our deepest condolences to those left behind.