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Firefighting Task Force Arrives In Klamath County For Holiday Weekend

Courtesy of John Hendricks
Firefighting equipment from Clatsop and Clackamas Counties arrives in Klamath County to provide backup in case wildfires break out in Southern Oregon over the holiday weekend.

The crews and equipment are being "prepositioned" in Southern Oregon to be available to respond to potential wildfire outbreaks as the region faces hot, dry weather and forecasts of thunderstorms.

With Southern Oregon facing an extreme drought and a forecast of dry lightning going into the July 4th weekend, firefighters from Clatsop and Clackamas Counties traveled to Chiloquin in Klamath County on Friday to bolster regional fire suppression forces in the event they are needed.

Assigning 26 firefighters, eight engines, two water tenders, two command vehicles, and a dozen additional pieces of firefighting equipment to Klamath County is part of a proactive approach by the state to help the region prepare for what has already shown itself to be a dangerous fire season. Their presence boosts fire response capacity by up to one-third, according to Matt Hitchcock, operations chief for Klamath County Fire District No. 1.

Hitchcock was on hand Friday afternoon in Chiloquin to welcome the firefighters to Klamath County as they arrived.

When they're not working alongside local crews, the crews from Clatsop and Clackamas counties will conduct home evaluations for fire risk in Chiloquin, according to Hitchcock.

“If there’s a fire that breaks out anywhere in Klamath County that warrants structure protection, they would be called to support that,” he said.

The Oregon Legislature allocated about $4 million for fire prevention efforts, including for this type of "prepositioning" of fire crews in regions across the state facing dry conditions, high heat, and extreme threats of wildfire.

Firefighting crews were most recently mobilized in Deschutes County when the region was at risk of fire. With the fire risk high in Southern Oregon, personnel followed the fire risk to Chiloquin.

Holly Dillemuth
JPR News
John Ketchum, Keno Fire Protection District chief and Klamath County Defense Board chief, speaks to visiting firefighting task forces from Clatsop and Clackamas Counties Friday afternoon in Chiloquin. About two dozen firefighters are stationed in Klamath County for the Fourth of July weekend to help local crews as they face extremely dry conditions and high risk for fire county-wide.

John Hendricks, public affairs specialist with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office, said the crews made the trip to be available to help nearby counties in southern Oregon, in the event they are needed there, as well.

“We wanted to get them into an area that’s kind of centrally located where the wildfire threat is, with the red flag warnings and also the high heat, and also … the drought conditions,” Hendricks said. “When you can get these task forces out and get them in an area where you might have that higher risk of a wildfire starting … that’s going to help protect those communities from a larger fire. It’s going to also save the taxpayer’s money because larger fires get more and more expensive.”

The teams gathered Friday afternoon at the Chiloquin Fire station to get a briefing on their tasks, and especially on Fourth of July on Sunday.

Hitchcock has seen over the last couple years an increase in fire activity, due to super dry conditions and high temperatures.

“They’re a perfect blend for bad things to happen,” he said.

He saw it with the Two Four Two Fire in Chiloquin last fall, in addition to fires that sparked in the Rogue Valley.

“The thought is to have those prepositioned resources close to where the fire is likely to start,” Hitchcock said. “Then you have a better chance of keeping it small and putting it out before it gets big. That’s why they’re here.”

Hitchcock appreciates the extra help for local firefighters and added fire protection for those living in the region. Personnel could remain longer than the weekend if needed, according to a news release from Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office.

Hitchcock emphasized safety going into Fourth of July, and urged residents to be cautious if using fireworks, have water on hand, and to create defensible spaces around their homes to prepare in the event of a fire.

“We would ask people to really become educated on how they can prevent fires,” Hitchcock said.

In addition, Klamath County issued a frank statement late Friday afternoon to residents that if individuals start a fire that damages property, they can be cited for reckless burning and can be required to pay for property damages, as well as costs associated with the fire. That could mean fines of up to $100,000 for small fires, according to a press release from Klamath County Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler.