Local strike team back from battling California fires

Medford, Ore. — Strike crews from throughout southern Oregon were demobilized earlier this week.
Now, we’re hearing about the conditions they faced.

Fire crews get sent out to different fires all the time. Some close, some far. So why is this strike team so significant? They are the first group from our region to help out the state of California.

Leaders said the team represented southern Oregon well, and they hope this is the start of a great relationship.

“These guys are… I don’t even know how to tell you how amazing they are,” said Captain Joseph Latva, Illinois Valley Fire District.

More than 20 firefighters, all from southern Oregon, and all sent down to California to help battle wildfires.

“We were looking at fire engines from all over the west coast and it was surprising to see how far people had come to help out.”

Deputy Chief Justin Bates with Medford-Fire Rescue said his strike team was joined by crews from all over – Washington, Los Angeles, and Utah.

“There were even some people from Australia that were there, some firefighters. So we really saw the gamete of different fire engines from different places,” Deputy Chief Bates said.

The strike team was in California for one week.

“Huge. Almost like a mini-city that was set up there. They had showers for us, laundry service. They had a cafeteria kind of thing set up for a lot of people. There were a lot of fire engines and people that were coming through that operation there,” Deputy Chief Bates said.

Deputy Chief Bates said firefighters sent out must be able to commit to staying 14 days. While not everyone can make that kind of commitment, these firefighters knew how much they were needed in the field.

“To deploy out off state like this, to deploy with almost no heads-up. These guys are – everybody dropped everything to respond. To be able to do that effectively and put an effective team in the field – is incredible,” Captain Latva said.

Strike leaders said they’re more than impressed with their men and how they represented southern Oregon.

“We’re super thankful for the opportunity to go down there and help them out. Hopefully this is the beginning of a great relationship between Oregon and California, and we’re able to do this again next summer when they need help and vice-versa. They’re able to come here and help us out,” Deputy Chief Bates said.

Other local fire agencies also sent crews to help at California wildfires, many of them have returned home. However, ODF crews are still working the front lines.

NBC5 News reporter, weather forecaster, anchor Nikki Torres graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Strategic Communication from The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

She also received a minor in Business Administration from the Washington State University Carson College of Business. Prior to coming to NBC5, Nikki was an intern at KHQ Local News, the NBC affiliate in Spokane.

She comes to Southern Oregon from the state of Washington, where she grew up just south of Seattle. She loves running, exploring the Pacific Northwest, watching a good football game and spending time with her dog, Gisele. True to her roots, Nikki is a proud WSU Cougar fan and loyal Seahawks fan.

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