New incident management team takes over exploding Bootleg Fire

CHILOQUIN, Ore.- The Bootleg Fire in Klamath County has now exploded to over 16,000 acres in just three days.

Today, a new management team touched down in Chiloquin. This is happening during a red flag warning, one of the worst things fire fighters can hear.

NBC5 News met them at their base camp today to get a breakdown of the change of leadership and what fighting this large fire looks like tonight.

Washington Incident Management Team 10 is now at the helm of the Bootleg Fire efforts. They got the call to come down to Klamath County after the initial fire response realized the fire was getting too large for them to handle alone.

“We got a call on Tuesday night that something would be mobilized for our team, so most of us traveled on Wednesday. And I arrived on Wednesday at about 1800,” explained Dan Omdel, the public information officer for the management team.

Despite being new on the scene, the team is focusing on reconnaissance, starting with accurate mapping of the growing fire.

“For many folks, this is the first time they’ve seen the terrain,” said Omdel. But the team isn’t fighting the fire alone.

Multiple agencies across the state are on hand to help, thanks to Governor Brown’s conflagration act.

“We have the opportunity to access more resources, more people, more equipment. But there are also a lot more moving parts when that happens,” Dan Omdel said of the additional help.

Operations Chief Bruce Meyer is managing much of those resources here at base camp, including an aggressive aerial response.

“We’re using helicopters to drop water. They’re reinforcing control lines we are working on. They’re also being utilized to wet fuels near houses and structures,” Meyer said.

Also from Washington, Meyer praised Oregon’s structural response team, which is made up of three county task forces.  The Oregon Fire Marshall’s Green Incident Management Team was requested by local fire departments. The team does structure triage, which maps and sorts properties on different risk levels *ahead of fire arriving.

“If the fire would come through, how will it stand up with fire. Do they have a lot of greenery, so they not have brush or combustible items, like lawn chairs or a pile of firewood?,” explained Gert Zoutendijk, the OSFM Incident Mangement Team information officer.

For both the structural team and wildfire operations, the terrain and the weather is making efforts difficult.

“Steep terrain, rough roads, a lot of potholes, really makeshift roads or driveways that are really just in the middle of the wilderness,” Zoutendijk said.

“The last fire that actually burned through there, burned over 30 years ago. So we’ve had 25 years of fuel accumulation,” added Omdel. The red flag warning ends at 8 p.m. tonight, but fire officials are staying alert and cautious during this early start to fire season.

The Red Cross and Klamath County are setting up a temporary evacuation point at the Beatty Community Center.

There are evacuation levels issued for areas around the Bootleg Fire.

The upper Tableland Area has been placed on a Level 3 “Go” evacuation order

Level 2 ‘Get Set’ is issued for areas to the east of upper Tableland

Level 1 ‘Get Ready’ orders are in place for Sycan Estates north of Beatty, residents north of Drew Road near Sprauge River, and Godawa Springs Road north of Beatty. For the latest updates on evacuation levels, you can check out Klamath Gov.’s Facebook page.

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Grace Smith
Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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