Banks Fire District Brush Rig 13 and a crew of three prepare to head to California. Photo: Banks Fire District

CALIFORNIA - As more than 200,000 people flee the path of wildfires in Northern California, 15 crews from Oregon, including staff and equipment from Banks Fire District, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue headed towards the flames to aid Californian firefighters over the weekend, arriving in California on Sunday. 

Today, their work begins.

According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM), the Oregon contingent of firefighters was split into two groups, with six strike teams headed by Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple assigned to the Burris Fire, a 250-acre fire in Mendocino County. 

Nine more teams, led by Assistant Chief Les Hallman of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue,were assigned to the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, a massive blaze that has already torched 66,231 acres. 

“It’s very humbling to be a part of a large scale mobilization of resources and see how quickly Oregon can responded in a time of need,” said State Fire Marshal Jim Walker in a press release. “To assemble 75 fire engines and 271 firefighters in a matter of hours to respond to our neighbors in need is extraordinary. I appreciate the more than 60 fire agencies that answered the call, the work of our OSFM staff and Office of Emergency Management in assembling the response, and Chief Hallman of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Chief Ruiz-Temple of OSFM in providing support for our firefighters while deployed to California. I truly appreciate all that you do.”

Wildfires resulting in massive responses from California's fire agencies and their neighbors are an increasingly familiar scenario in California. catastrophic wildfires in 2018 — the deadliest and most destructive year on record in the state — threatened populated areas, torched more than 1.8 million acres, and devastated towns, causing at least $16 billion in damage according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

More than 100 people died, most from the Camp Fire, which was California’s deadliest fire in recorded history, and the most expensive natural disaster in the world in 2018. 

Several firefighters lost their lives battling more than 8,500 fires throughout the state. 

And firefighters from neighboring states stepped up to answer calls last year for aid from the state, sending crews and equipment at a moments notice, including crews from Banks Fire District 13 and Forest Grove Fire & Rescue. 

This year, Oregon firefighters are back to help, as they were in 2018 and in 2017.

“It’s very humbling to be a part of a large scale mobilization of resources and see how quickly Oregon can responded in a time of need,” said State Fire Marshal Jim Walker in a press release. “To assemble 75 fire engines and 271 firefighters in a matter of hours to respond to our neighbors in need is extraordinary. I appreciate the more than 60 fire agencies that answered the call, the work of our OSFM staff and Office of Emergency Management in assembling the response, and Chief Hallman of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Chief Ruiz-Temple of OSFM in providing support for our firefighters while deployed to California. I truly appreciate all that you do.”

Oregon firefighters are expected to be in California no more than 16 days as part of the  state-to-state mutual aid system deployment.

Banks, Forest Grove, Gaston, Cornelius, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue crews packed up and headed south on the morning of Sunday, October 27, joining nearly 300 other firefighters from Oregon.

“We have crews on brush rigs from Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Gaston, and they are joining firefighters from our neighboring departments in the county in an effort to provide whatever assistance California needs,” read a statement from the Forest Grove Fire & Rescue Facebook page. 

According to FGF&R public information officer Dave Nemeyer, Forest Grove, Gaston and Cornelius sent a total of 10 firefighters. 

TVF&R noted that 33 of their members were in California as well. 

From Banks, public information officer Scott Adams shed some light on the logistics of the deployment. 

The district is sending Brush Rig 13 with three district members who volunteered to head to California. 

“Participation in a mobilization is voluntary at the district level. For Banks Fire, this request comes at a time when there is not a heavy local demand for the type of apparatus being sent. Likewise, crew participation is voluntary and Banks Fire thanks those willing to go and their employers for allowing them to be gone for up to 2 weeks or more. Local demands remain the highest priority and Banks Fire will remain fully able to meet the needs of its residents and guests during this mobilization,” Adams said. 

Funding for the firefighters from Banks comes from a variety of state and federal sources, Adams said, and are not pulled from Banks Fire District coffers. 

From Banks Fire District, Timber resident lieutenant Scott Arlin, Buxton resident Engineer Julie Kemper, and Banks resident Duty Officer Chris Lanter volunteered to head to California. 

For Kemper and Lanter, the trip may be familiar. Both were in California, helping with the deadly Camp Fire as part of a similar deployment. 

This story has been updated to note how many firefighters FGF&R and their affiliated agencies sent to California.