A contingent of Southern Oregon firefighters are part of a multi-county Oregon team fighting out-of-control wildfires in Southern California.
The strike team includes 18 people from Medford Fire-Rescue, Jackson County Fire District No. 3, Applegate Fire District No. 9, Illinois Valley Fire District, and Rogue River Fire District No. 1, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal. The firefighters traveled south in a convoy of five fire engines and a command vehicle.
"We're prepared for a two-week assignment," said Mike Hussey, Fire District 3 operations chief. "The fire dictates the number of resources. If they’re not needed, they cut them loose earlier."
The temporary reduction in personnel won't put the local agencies in a bind, as other firefighters have stepped up to fill the vacant shifts. It does mean increased costs because of a bump in overtime, but Medford fire officials said part of that cost is reimbursed with money from California.
State officials said they sent 15 strike teams of 269 firefighters and 75 pieces of equipment from Oregon, which includes firefighters from Lane, Multnomah, Linn, Marion, Clackamas, Klamath, Yamhill, Polk, Linn and Benton counties.
Seven of the 15 strike teams, including Fire District 3, are fighting the Thomas fire near Ventura. The largest fire currently burning in California, it surged to 96,000 acres in size and was considered 5 percent contained Thursday, according to the Incident Information System wildfire website.
The blaze roared to life Monday evening near the city of Santa Paula and blew toward the coast. Hundreds of structures have been destroyed by the flames, and 15,000 structures are threatened. On Thursday, 2,509 personnel were fighting the blaze.
Eight Oregon strike teams are assigned to the Creek fire burning near Sylmar. On Thursday, it had grown to 12,605 acres and was considered 10 percent contained.
Red flag warnings are in place for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Saturday due to strong winds and low humidity, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts of 45 to 70 mph are expected, with speeds diminishing Friday into Saturday.
"If fire ignition occurs, there will be the potential for very rapid spread of wildfire with long-range spotting and extreme fire behavior that could lead to a threat of life and property," a Weather Service bulletin said.
California requested mutual aid through a system called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. When teams from individual departments return, those departments submit their bills to the Oregon Fire Marshal's office for reimbursement. It's similar to this past summer, when outside fire teams flocked to Oregon to help fight the Chetco Bar fire.
"We're more than happy to return the favor in their time of need," said Rich Hoover, Oregon State Fire Marshal spokesman.
It's the second time this year Rogue Valley firefighters have traveled to California to offer aid. In October, a multi-agency group from Southern Oregon traveled to the Napa Valley. Medford Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Justin Bates said this type of state-to-state aid may become more common going forward.
"I see this happening more," Bates said. "We have kind of limited experience, with only two times, but it will be interesting to see what happens this summer."
— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.