Friday, August 8, 2014

Go West Young Man (Blogging from the Fireline)

I have not had the chance to go out west or help fight wildfires for about 4 years.  Sherry and I discussed that this year was a good time to start back since our kids are a little older and she is not working or attending school right now.  I began the process of getting everything together to fight wildfires, and I placed my name on what we call the "GOOD TO GO" list at the beginning of July and began the waiting game for an assignment.  The western fires had not made a significant push until just the last week and a half.  On Sunday, August 3rd, I saw several positions for which I am qualified get posted to the "UTF" list.  For those of you who are not in the know, "UTF" stands for Unable to Fill by the federal government so that means they call up for outside sources.  I anticipated a dispatch order that day or the next and began the process of gathering clothes, gear, and making sure that as much of the duties at home I had to do were done.   Sunday came and went with no call which I thought was due to our state's dispatchers not working on the weekend.  Monday morning, I called our Central Dispatch and worked out the problem that had kept me from leaving on Sunday, and by 12 noon on Monday, I had an assignment and was Oregon bound.  I had been to Oregon is 2008 to help fight three different wildfires and thus I knew the area and the fire behavior that they experienced there.  I received my orders and my flight information and had everything packed and read to go.  I spent a couple of hours with the kids and Sherry, then it was time to head to the airport.  Sherry, Brody, and Evan dropped me off at the airport, and we said our goodbyes and then I was off on my journey.

I first had a long flight from Charlotte to Portland, OR.  I then had an hour and thirty minute layover before flying to Redmond, OR.  I landed at 11 p.m. or 2 a.m. my time and immediately ran into a fellow firefighter that was having problems.  Evidently, he had traveled from New Mexico and didn't have a ride to the fire that he was going to, and the car that he had a reservation for was there, but they wouldn't take payment over the phone.  He was out a ride and a place to stay.  I gave him some advice and then he decided that he would go to the same hotel that I was staying at and get a room for the night.  I finally got to bed at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time or 12 pm Pacific Time.  The next morning, I was picked up by a local driver and driven 3 hours northwest to a fire camp setup just outside John Day, OR.  The fire is called the South Fork Complex which encompasses two fires, the Murderers' Creek South Fire and the Buck Fork Fire.  To date, the fire is 41,831 acres, and yesterday we had some good fire activity.  Tomorrow, I will be doing a recon flight of the fire in a helicopter to get a better overall view of the fire and how much progress we are making containing it.

Not to ramble but my position on the fire is Situation Unit Leader.  My duties include managing the GIS specialists who make the maps of the fires (on this fire there are 3), supervising Field Observers who go out on the ground and scout the fire out (we have 3), supervising the Fire Behavior Analysis and Incident Meteorologist, completing required forms and paperwork to ensure that everyone knows what the current status of the fire is and if there are any critical needs.   I will be on the fire for 14 days camping out and assisting the suppression efforts.  I will also be missing most of our family's beach vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC.  I will fly to meet Sherry and the boys on Wednesday, August 20th.  I will get one day on the beach and then get to pack up and help bring everything home.    Below is a link to the website with information about the fire that I update daily.

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My home for the next 14 days.

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Good Morning.  Nothing like the smell and haze from a wildfire to greet the day.

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The Incident Meteorologist getting ready to release a weather balloon.
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The fire decided that it had been quiet for long enough and was ready to make a run for it.  It burned an additional 6000 acres yesterday.
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The fire is really burning actively in this picture.

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Smoke blocking out the sun.

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The smoke column going up and blocking out the sun.
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A heavy helicopter with a bucket going to aid the fire fighters on the line.

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  1. Thank you for this update Eddie. My prayers are with you and everyone who is fighting this fire. May God be with you.

  2. Thanks for all that you do Eddie!

  3. Absolutely fascinating, Eddie. I learned so much by reading this post. I know absolutely nothing about fighting fires! Thank you for your brave work out west.


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