Wildfire Suppression in Oregon
On September 16th 2020, the Parks Canada Fire Crew from Pukaskwa National Park, including members Charles Ingleton, Jennifer Morrison, and Taylor Benda departed for Redmond, Oregon, to assist with the devastating Lionshead wildfire which burned more than 200,000 acres and destroyed 264 residences.
The lightning-caused fire started in mid-August, rapidly spreading west into the Willamette, Deschutes, and Mt. Hood National Forests due to a historic windstorm on September 7th, 2020. Multiple other fires in the state saw dramatic increases in size due to the storm, resulting in local resources becoming sparse. Our American neighbours requested help, and Canada responded by sending personnel from the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as personnel from Parks Canada–all in the midst of a global pandemic. Heart warming greetings were received by the crew upon arrival, and gratitude was shown throughout the deployment from both our American counterparts and the public.
There were a number of community evacuations and road closures within the area. These not only ensured public safety, but also allowed firefighters and other personnel working on the fire to do their jobs safely and effectively. The incident command team spent countless hours coordinating the emergency response to this fire, which involved upwards of 1,400 firefighters. While on the fire line, crews worked tirelessly to secure and gain control of the perimeter of the vast Lionhead fire with hand tools, pumps, and hoses.
One of the largest concerns about traveling to Oregon was COVID-19, and ensuring the safety of all fire management team members throughout their deployment. Upon arrival at the basecamp in Sisters, Oregon, everyone was pleased to see that multiple protocols were implemented. In an effort to keep everyone safe, radio briefings replaced in-person briefings, and meals were pre-packaged in travel containers instead of the typical buffet style in communal dining tents. Masks were mandatory, there were daily temperature checks, and support staff did a phenomenal job of ensuring the wash and shower stations were cleaned and disinfected.
After working tireless days on the fire line, crews began their travel back to Canada and, upon arrival, completed a 14-day mandatory quarantine. For some this was a challenge, because it required further isolation from loved ones.
The summer of 2020 was one few people will forget. This especially holds true for the people of Oregon, as they faced one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in history totalling 1,000,000 acres burned, in addition to the global pandemic. This was the largest number of firefighters Canada has sent to the USA in recent years. Through this international deployment, Parks Canada was able to develop strong interagency relationships, which not only helped to reduce losses, but also served as a learning experience to continuously evaluate and advance our own tactics here in Canada.