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Outback Observations: A Note of Gratitude to Oregon’s Fire Fighters

As hot, dry and muggy with a 100 percent chance of sunburn remains the status quo weather forecast for the foreseeable future, it seems as good of a time as any to give some much deserved thanks to our fire fighters.

We’re quick to thank our veterans, and deservedly so for their efforts in dedicating their lives to protecting us, but so should there be a tip of the cap to the fine folks spending their summers in the smoke and dirt protecting forests and communities from the threat of fire.

Many of those on the frontlines scattered throughout Lake and Klamath counties during fire season, armed with little more than a shovel or pick axe, are fresh out of high school, giving up their last summer before college to dig around in the dust and debris. Whether community volunteer fire fighters, BLM, USFS, ODF, USFW or some other hard to pronounce acronym, these kids are shipped out weekly to the most remote parts of Oregon like chess pieces on a board, overseen by the Lakeview Interagency Fire Center (LIFC) as part of the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership (SCOFMP) to proactively respond to any reports of smoke.

The coordination involved in managing aircraft overhead, boots on the ground, vehicles, equipment and supplies is a daunting task, compounded by rising temperatures and diminished rainfall. As soon as one fire is extinguished, another sparks elsewhere, making the hot summers like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

For perspective, consider that a recent single day of thunderstorm activity in June resulted in 50 separate fires reported that required a response by fire fighters. Something as simple as a discarded cigarette, mismanaged campfire, or operation of a chainsaw can be the catalyst to ignite a massive forest fire that can quickly rage out of control.

I recently had the opportunity to witness all that goes into the ordeal firsthand, taking a tour of the LIFC facilities and spending a day with newly hired fire fighters at their weeklong introductory fire school. I recognized many of the faces involved being fresh from high school graduation just a couple weeks prior, now decked out in equipment learning the rigors of fire fighting and emergency survival. Witnessing training sessions on tools, extinguishing procedures and emergency shelter deployment made me appreciate all the more the brutal, back breaking and dangerous work these folks do to protect Oregon.

It’s not just the forests under threat, dry overgrowth in yards and alleys in towns can spark just as easily. Community leadership has urged residents to remove overgrowth and manage their yards to help prevent fires. While fire fighters do their part, so can we. Be attentive of fire risks, manage yards and alleyways, and if camping or participating in activities in the forests follow proper safety guidelines and completely extinguish all campfires. Above all, if you see a fire call 9-1-1 immediately. These young men and women suppressing wildfires throughout southern Oregon have more than enough work to do, they don’t need any more tacked on due to our careless disregard.

And on the rare occasion that the many people involved in fire fighting activities get a chance to catch a breath over the next few months before the busy 2014 fire season subsides, be sure to show your gratitude for all that they do.


— Kurt Liedtke

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