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Local emergency crew a 'small part' of Ivan aid effort

After responding to wildfires in Alaska and Washington state this past summer, Don Ferguson figured the season was over for his federal emergency response team.

I thought we were done for the year, certainly with fires, said the Ashland resident. It was starting to rain up there.

Yet it was rain ' and screaming wind ' from Hurricane Ivan that sent the Northwest Area Type — Incident Management Team — to Florida. It is one of more than a dozen teams of specialists nationwide that responds to natural as well as manmade disasters.

Ferguson, a natural resource staff administrator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford district, is one of 50 members of the team from Oregon and Washington. All are federal employees whose expertise contributes to emergency management.

Other local members include Doug Parker, who also works in the BLM's Medford District; and Rita Dyer, Jeff Keener, Lance Packer, Jeff Tjaden and Cindy Wedekind, all U.S. Forest Service employees from the Rogue River or Siskiyou national forests.

— In addition to responding to huge wildfires and floods in recent years, the team was deployed to Texas in February of 2003 to help search for debris from the space shuttle Columbia after it broke apart on re-entry over East Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard. It had left a trail of debris about 10 miles wide and 240 miles long.

And the team was deployed Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City to provide logistic support for emergency response efforts in that disaster. The team was based in Edison, N.J., about 20 air miles southwest of ground zero on lower Manhattan.

The team, now in Milton, Fla., is halfway through a 14-day tour of duty. Its mission is to organize the feeding and housing of some 1,400 emergency responders in that area, Ferguson explained.

This isn't like doing a fire, said the veteran firefighter of more than 30 fire seasons. We're a very small part of a really big deal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in charge of the effort, he noted.

The team is based near where the eye of the hurricane marched ashore late last week.

During the hurricane, a storm surge 10 to 15 feet high swept up the nearby Blackwater River, flooding the region, he observed.

They lost power over most of the county, he said. There are lots of trees and power lines down. There are a lot of leaky roofs. And there is very little potable water.

There is also precious little gasoline available, he said, noting he has seen cars lined up for nearly a mile to purchase gas.

But it's still cheaper than Medford ' down to &

36;1.85 a gallon, he said.

Because of the damage, most of the local motel rooms are full, he said.

You might go 50 miles from here to find a room, he said.

As a result, the team, which is sleeping on the floor of the civic auditorium in Milton, has set up a camp for emergency responders in a soccer field.

You can't just put your pup tent on the ground anywhere ' there are too many creatures around, fire ants and other things, he said.

True story.

Just 40 miles southwest of Milton in Gulf Shores, Ala., a 1,000-pound alligator dubbed Chucky that walked away from a small coastal zoo during the flooding was found in a ditch and returned to his handlers on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, temperatures were in the upper 90s with humidity approaching 90 percent Wednesday afternoon, he said.

It's the kind of weather that makes me glad I live where I do, he added.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at