Make the McKenzie Connection!

Cooperation counts when fighting a fire

RAINBOW: Billed as P.R.E.P., a meeting at the Upper McKenzie Community Center focused on how firefighters attack a fire after someone reports one. According to representatives from the McKenzie River Ranger District, McKenzie Fire & Rescue, the Upper McKenzie Fire District, and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry, the answer was the same - “put it out.”

Sponsored by the McKenzie Valley Long Term Recovery Group, the “Plan, Resilient, Educate, and Prepare” meeting was the first of four sessions to update people on what happens behind the scenes. Last Saturday’s gathering focused on initial attack procedures.

Noting that the “Fire Season” concept has changed, McKenzie Fire Chief Darin Bucich said today, “We send out everyone to a call unless we know otherwise.”

Upper McKenzie Fire Chief Rainbow Plews agreed. “Whether it's a barn, a chicken house, a yard fire, or a burn pile that got out of control, we’re going to put that out.” She added that the same would be true if a report came in for a grass fire.

“If we see a column of smoke, we’re getting all these guys to come - neighboring fire districts, ODF, Forest Service, and whoever is available,” Plews added.

While forces are being gathered, sharing information between different agencies is key to developing a proper “Size up,” according to Dan Trapanese, Fire Management Officer for the McKenzie River Ranger District. The term, he said, describes what is actually happening on the ground “and what we need to contain that incident.”

The sizing up process combines information from initial reports, ranging from the public to other agencies. “We hop on the same channel, and we communicate,” Trapanese said. He prioritizes incidents that could affect the community, adding that “Mutual aid happens a heck of a lot.”

Those interactions have been part of the area’s coordinated responses. While the local fire districts receive input from a central dispatch center in Eugene, it needs to be combined with local awareness. “We’re not going to go 10 miles up Horse Creek Road,” Bucich said. We don’t know the roads as well as the ODF or Forest Service folks. I don’t want our volunteers getting lost or encountering a locked gate.”

According to John Flannigan, Eastern Lane Unit Forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry, “Initially, we go with the closest forces to get the size up” and plan the initial attack.

Flannigan admitted that estimating how much acreage might be involved is sometimes tricky. Some terms the public might use instead could include “the size of a frying pan, the size of my pickup, or the size of a football field,” he said. Other tips can range from the best routes to get to the site to any wind activity or fire movement and whether there are flames or just smoldering smoke.

Additional P.R.E.P presentations have been scheduled for April 13th at McKenzie Fire’s Leaburg Station, May 7th at McKenzie Community School, and again at the Leaburg Fire Station on June 11th. The first will cover prescribed burning and fire levels, followed by evacuations and extended fire attacks.

The focus of the fourth meeting will be on ways to prepare for fires and develop defensible spaces.

To view videos of the meeting, go to:


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