Soldiers shipping out to John Day for firefighting

Soldiers shipping out to John Day for firefighting 

26 August 2015

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USA–   Soldiers turned firefighters probably are headed today to Grant County.

Done with a fast, four-day training in Salem, the soldiers — more than half from units based in Central Oregon — are set to relieve firefighters near John Day, said Nick Choy, spokesman for the Oregon Military Department.

“They are going to support the firefighters so they can get some rest and recuperation and be (sent) to other fire lines around the state,” he said. Their main chore is likely to be mop up, or putting out hot spots where wildfire is not active.

The Canyon Creek Complex Fire, which started Aug. 12 and has destroyed 39 homes, was 37 percent contained and had burned 74,744 acres — more than 115 square miles — as of Tuesday. More than 700 firefighters, not counting the soldiers, were assigned to the fire.

Originally, the soldiers were going to help firefighters on the Stouts Creek Fire near Canyonville.

Sparked by a lawnmower on July 30, the fire as of Tuesday was 84 percent contained and had burned 26,208 acres, or more than 40 square miles.

Fire conditions and firefighting needs could change where the soldiers eventually end up, Eriks Gabliks, director of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem, said Tuesday afternoon. Fire managers may adjust the plans this morning.

“We know we are going to give them a good breakfast and they are going to get on a bus and be ready to go,” he said.

The training is part of Operation Plan Smokey, a last resort of firefighting support for Oregon when state, federal and contract fire crews are taxed. Gov. Kate Brown activated the military members last week and then again on Sunday.

A second wave of Oregon military members today begins their whirlwind firefighter program in Salem. Gabliks said trainers crammed 40 hours of learning into four days.

“We are pushing them hard because we want to get them out into the field,” he said. They came away with red cards, basic wildland firefighting certifications.

In all, 125 Oregon National Guard soldiers, including 68 from units based in Central Oregon, made up the first group. The second wave of 250 military members comes half from the Oregon Air National Guard and half from the Oregon National Guard.

Of the 125 airmen and airwomen, 45 are coming from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls and 80 from the Portland Air National Guard Base. Of the 125 soldiers, 65 are coming from a unit based in Clackamas and 60 from a unit based in Forest Grove.

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