Though Central Oregon has so far avoided the devastation caused by wildfires around Oregon, professional firefighters from the area are serving on the front lines.
Task forces with personnel and equipment from Bend Fire & Rescue, Redmond Fire Department and other local agencies are currently deployed at the Two Four Two Fire near Chiloquin and Lionshead Fire, which has burned more than 100,000 acres and remains largely uncontained.
The Lionshead crew spent the past two days protecting homes near Detroit, according to Bend Fire Chief Todd Riley, who spoke because his employees are unreachable by phone due to cell towers being down.
In rural Chiloquin, the Two Four Two Fire has claimed property and driven hundreds from their homes, though the devastation hasn’t matched the scale of some fires further west, according to Redmond Fire Capt. Josh Clark and Bend Fire Capt. Brian Boyd, who are overseeing around a dozen firefighters there.
“We got a lot done today,” Clark said. “Today was a good day. But yeah, there’s a lot of work ahead on this fire.”
“The fire was moving quite rapidly through the area, and the residences here are just scattered everywhere,” Clark said. “We’ve been trying to get ahead of the fire and try to prep structures and do what we can to keep the fire away from them.”
Soon after the task force arrived near Chiloquin on Monday night, it set to work protecting a cluster of six houses outside town threatened by numerous small fires. Each of the crew’s six engines “took a house” and set to work. All six houses were ultimately spared.
Most residents have obeyed evacuation orders, though some residents have stayed behind and assisted fire crews protecting property.
The Chiloquin crew worked continuously for 36 hours before taking a three-hour nap, Clark said.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many structures we worked around during that time,” he said. “Fifty to 100, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. We were kind of all over.”
It’s also hard to know how successful the crew has been at saving homes. In some cases, fires that pass by, return hours later to claim a home thought to have been protected. But task force members believe they’ve saved many, and success starts with choosing homes they have the best chance of saving.
“In some cases, we just didn’t have the time to be effective, and we went on to the next house,” Boyd said.
Fire resources are extremely scarce around the state, but local fire chiefs say they have enough resources should fires pop up close to home.