Getting ready for fire

As wildfires rage across the Northwest, local units prepare for dangers at home

The fire crew came off the line hot, tired and reeking of smoke. They had just finished spraying a wet line to knock back a quick-moving brush fire through tall dry grass on rural land in Hood River County.

With the temperature well over 90 degrees, they rolled back to their staging area to catch their breath. They didn’t get much more than a moment.

A spot fire was sighted a few hundred yards away, and with no one else available, the ad hoc crew, made up of firefighters from different agencies, rolled out in their truck to combat the next rapidly spreading blaze.

The flames were very real; the situation, thankfully, was only a practice.

On Wednesday afternoon local fire agencies gathered for the second of two wildland fire practice burns this month; this one on a field at the Hood River Golf Course.

Fire crews from West Side, Hood River, Oregon Department of Forestry and the White Salmon area all participated in the drill under the supervision of West Side Fire Marshall Jim Trammel.

“Most of it was based on mobile attack and fighting with the fire engine as you go along,” Trammel said.

While crews started out making rotations through a field just beyond the second-hole fairway at the golf course, soon enough Trammel and WSFD officers had them scrambling to put out spot fires on field between the second and fourth holes.

Combined with heat and dry weather, it gave the fire crews a chance to practice in the same sort of conditions they would see in actual wild fire.

“You rarely get a chance to practice in the kind of conditions you’ll see when it’s hot and dry,” Trammel said. “We were actually able to train in the same environment you fight fire in.”

It also gave the 25 firefighters who took part in the exercise a chance to practice their co-operation skills, with more-experienced firefighters helping the less-experienced and working between different agencies.

“Training with other agencies you learn that even though their truck may be a different color, everything we do is the same,” Trammel said. “We may never be one department but if we train the same way we do a better job for the public and it’s safer for ourselves.”

All told, the crews spent about four hours practicing on Wednesday, giving them eight hours of live wildland fire practice this month.

The practice may come in handy.

The Washington contingent at the practice session was smaller than normal as several crews from that side of the river have been dispatched to a large blaze near Cle Elum in central Washington.

With temperatures in the area expected to stay in the high 80s through the weekend with the chance for thunderstorms, Trammel fears the crews may soon be seeing wildland fires in a real situation.

“That was it (for practice),” Trammel said. “Now we wait for the real thing.”

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