Photo contributed by NWIC8
Photo contributed by NWIC8
When it seems like the entire state is on fire, it’s only natural that people want to show their support to the firefighters working to keep the flames at bay.
Christie Shaw of the Oregon Department of Forestry said simple thank-yous are often enough. Personnel working on the Wilson Prairie fire in south Morrow County have mentioned community members and tourists thanking them at a local restaurant, and crews on large wildfires will often see hand-written signs posted in communities thanking them for their service.
“I know that’s meaningful to them,” she said.
Families displaced by wildfires often need supplies as they wait out in the fire and in some cases find they have no home to return to. Firefighters on large wildland fires, on the other hand, are “fully compensated and supported” for their work, including water and meals at the fire camp that the Department of Forestry has budgeted for.
Shaw said while firefighters “love to feel that they’re valued,” it tends to make more sense to check in with smaller rural fire departments — which often run on volunteers — with more limited budgets to ask if there is anything they need help with, rather than dropping off donations unannounced at government-run fire camps. One year, for example, a community ended up dropping off “crates and crates of socks” to a fire camp even though firefighters were well-stocked with socks already.
Danny Palomino of Hermiston is trying to go the rural support route by starting a Facebook page called “Watch my 6 I got yours” this week. He said he hopes to serve as a focal point for people to drop off donations they want to give, and then he can contact agencies in Umatilla and Morrow counties and see if they are running low on any of those supplies, instead of a stream of community members dropping by fire stations unannounced.
“It’s been pretty horrible with all of these fires lately, and I know people want to help but they feel helpless,” he said.
He said he traveled to the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge last summer to drop off Gold Bond, baby wipes and “pocket snacks” but had a lot of difficulty getting through to deliver them, which is why he thought coordinating with local fire departments was a better route.
Umatilla County Fire District 1 operations chief Jim Forquer said the district has had to turn down some offers of support lately, but he hoped people understood it was because the district was incredibly busy and not because they weren’t grateful.
“We’re really appreciative of our relationship with the community,” he said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Forquer said the public can be a huge help to firefighters by paying attention while driving and getting out of the way quickly when a truck or ambulance comes through with lights and sirens.
He said the very biggest thing people can do to support the fire district was to stay safe — including precautions such as wearing life jackets and staying hydrated — and do everything in their power to prevent fires.
“We’ve had several fires where folks weren’t following the burn ban, and that creates an additional work load,” he said.
Vehicle maintenance can be an important component of that. Over the weekend the district put out a series of seven small spot fires along Diagonal Road that Forquer said was caused by an improperly maintained catalytic converter on a vehicle throwing out small pieces of hot material. Other times a chain dragging has sparked the grass near a road.
“It’s been a really busy fire season already, and I think we might be heading into worse,” he said.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.