Banks Fire District heads south to battle California blaze

This story originally stated that Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and other neighboring agencies had been called off of deploying to the fire. That is not accurate; while a second task force was told to stand down, the initial task force, including FGF&R, Banks, and others, were all deployed to California. We deeply regret the error. 

Banks – The Banks Fire District is sending a crew of four firefighters, along with Fire Engine 13, to northern California to help firefighters there battle the 70,000-acre Camp Fire — an area twice the size of the relatively-nearby city of San Francisco — which now has reached the outskirts of the city of Chico in Butte County.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that five people were found dead in their vehicles as a result of the rapidly-moving fire, which continues growing although officials reported that as of noon on Friday, November 9, the so-called Camp Fire, named because it started near Highway 70 inside Feather River Canyon near Camp Creek Road, at about 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7.

The fire now is 5 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) posted on its website.

Feather River Canyon is about 31 miles northeast of the town of Paradise, Calif., where some 50,000 people were evacuated, and the city of Chico, 80 miles north of Sacramento, is about 40 miles west from where the fire originated. Chico residents also are evacuating although the estimated number of individuals was not immediately available through CAL FIRE.

The Associated Press reported CAL FIRE Captain Scott McLean said late at night on Nov. 7 that the town of Paradise, population 26,600, essentially no longer exists.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed,” McLean said. “It’s that kind of devastation. The wind that was predicted came and just wiped (the town) out.”

Other AP reports quote displaced Paradise citizens saying black soot rained down like a snowstorm, catching many structures on fire the burning pieces touched, and that “within minutes” the town was engulfed.

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue crews get ready to leave for the Camp Fire. Photo from FGF&R PIO David Nemeyer

Oregon’s Contribution

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office has sent task force crews for up to two weeks from Washington, Yamhill and Clackamas counties. The Banks firefighters on their way are Banks Fire Officer Chris Lanter, Engineer Julie Kemper, and firefighters Jonah Sigler and Samantha Linz, to help everyone in California fighting the fire, Banks Fire District Chief Rodney Linz said.

When asked if it made him nervous sending immediate family to battle such a devastating and rapidly-spreading fire, Linz said he always feels concern when any Banks firefighters are in harm’s way.

“I’m always concerned about crews going to California because fires behave differently down there than they do in the Pacific

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue crews get ready to leave for the Camp Fire. Photo from FGF&R PIO David Nemeyer

Northwest,”

Chief Linz said. “They spread with a lot of speed, especially with the Santa Ana winds, but I’m

sure that they should all be fine.”

The Oregon State Fire Marshal is mobilizing the Banks firefighting crew for 16 days — two travel days and 14 days battling the blaze. If called upon, the different regional task forces, including the Gaston Rural Fire District, Forest Grove Fire and Rescue, the Hillsboro Fire Protection District, and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, also will spend significant time fighting the Camp Fire.

Calls to the Gaston Rural Fire District were not immediately returned, and Hillsboro Fire Protection District PIO Bruce Montgomery referred any and all questions to the state fire marshal’s office. State fire marshal PIO Rich Hoover also did not immediately return requests via pager for comment.

However, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Cassandra Ulven said her team was in the process of getting together crews as part of their regional task force duties.

“We (are supposed to) have 15 personnel sent out and they are in the throws of things … trying to get gear and stuff mobilized,” Ulven said. “The equipment (would send) includes heavy brush firefighting trucks, which are wildland firefighting vehicles. We plan on being deployed for two weeks total. I’ll call you back when I learn more.”

Ulven has not returned calls since early this afternoon (Friday, Nov. 9).

Reported Damage

Currently, fighting the Camp Fire are about 2,300 firefighters, 303 fire engines, 59 fire crews fighting by hand, 11 helicopters, 24 bulldozers, and 11 water tenders, CAL FIRE’s website says.

So far, the fire is threatening 15,000 structures and an estimated 2,000 have been destroyed. CAL FIRE’s website is not specific about how many of those structures are homes versus retail, commercial or industrial sites, and how many of those were in the town of Paradise.

A situation summary on CAL FIRE’s website says strong Northeast winds, which pushed the fire south and southeast overnight Nov. 7, will continue but should decrease in strength today (Friday, Nov. 9) in the afternoon.

“The fire burned through the town of Paradise and the town of Concow on Thursday, Nov. 7, and those areas will continue to experience active burning throughout Friday, Nov. 9. The fire has crossed Highway 70 near the town of Pulga and will continue to burn to the east and southeast toward Yankee Hill,” the CAL FIRE website said.

Other cooperating agencies include the California Department of Transportation, California Highway Patrol, California Office of Emergency Services, the National Weather Service, United States Forest Service, the Town of Paradise Police Department, California Conservation Corps, Butte County and the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the city of Chico, and prisoners from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

This is a developing story.

This story originally stated that Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and other neighboring agencies had been called off of deploying to the fire. That is not accurate; while a second task force was told to stand down, the initial task force, including FGF&R Banks, and others, were all deployed to California. We deeply regret the error. 

Daniel Pearson

Daniel Pearson holds a bachelors in journalism and an MBA in marketing. He’s a10-time, Oregon SPJ award-winning journalist, a two-time winner of an ADDY (advertising) for copywriting, and a one-time award winner for fiction for the NW Coastal Writer’s Series. Email: daniel@bankspost.com Twitter: @rosecitywriting