Local strike teams back from battling Thomas Fire

East Medford, Ore. —  The southern Oregon strike team rolled into town Wednesday after spending two weeks in California. The strike team was working the Thomas Fire, which is now the second largest fire in California history. So far, it’s burned more than 270,000 acres.

“The extreme nature of the fire – just the fire behavior in itself. But now I’m standing watching the fire move and with extreme force and extreme energy,” said Battalion Chief Tom McGowan, Medford-Fire Rescue.

A total of 15 Oregon strike teams were deployed to assist with the Thomas Fire, burning in southern California. One of those teams was from Medford Fire-Rescue.

“If you were to take those pictures and think about what that would try to be like to actually be there – the unknown is about the same,” he said.

His team spent two weeks battling the flames.

“Different unique things that this deployment brought, that were new for a lot of us,” he said.

They were joined by crews from across the country.

“It was massive – fire camps having 7,000-8,000 people in them, that is a massive machine,” he said.

They returned home Wednesday, along with Battalion Chief McGowan.

“Just extremely proud of this team and this crew. I’m one small tiny cog in this wheel of this huge machine that exists,” he said.

He said in more than two decades of fighting fires. This one, is one he will never forget.

“Being able to know we contributed everything we could while we were there is a rewarding opportunity,” he said.

Also rewarding – working with California firefighters they worked with this summer.

“Cal firefighters that were down there shared about how they were at Chetco. It was a neat conversation about us being there, them being here,” he said.

With thousands of firefighters it was all for the bigger picture.

“We’re there to do everything we can to keep them safe to keep their property safe and allow them to have the opportunity to be in their homes at their tables for Christmas,” he said.

And though it was a difficult time for the community, firefighters said the people at risk of losing everything would have done anything to help Oregon’s crews feel welcome.

“Being from out of the area, just the amount of true appreciation and hugs and tears and them sharing for us what it meant to be there for them,” he said.

At last check, the Thomas Fire is 55% contained.

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