MEDFORD, Ore.– A devastating wildfire in Northern California has decimated one town, forced thousands to flee their homes and killed five people so far.
The Camp Fire is just one of three major fires currently burning in California, this one in Paradise, a town just east of Chico. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office says the victims were found in vehicles in the area of Edgewood Lane and could not immediately confirm their identities.
The wildfire started around 6:30 am on Thursday in the Feather River Canyon and as of Friday evening it’s estimated at 70,000 acres and is five percent contained. The fire has led acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.
In an effort to assist its neighbors at this time, Oregon’s Office of the State Fire Marshal activated its Agency Operations Center to mobilize strike teams all across the state. So far, a total of 15 strike teams have been assembled and sent to Butte County. Among them happens to be a team from the Rogue Valley.
“No fire department can handle a fire the amplitude of the Camp Fire by themselves with their existing staffing,” said Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Erin Sawall.
While not among those sent to the fire, Sawall is regional strike team leader and helped to organize a Rogue Valley Strike Team to assist Cal Fire crews in battling the catastrophic fire.
“Our whole purpose is to support the citizens and agencies there and get them back on their feet,” he said.
The strike team is made up of agencies all across Jackson and Josephine County. Those involved in this team came from Medford Fire-Rescue, Ashland Fire & Rescue, Rogue River Fire, Illinois Valley Fire District, and Jackson County Fire District #3 and #5.
A total of five Type 1 engines and 22 personnel were sent out Friday morning. Sawall says that while local agencies may be sending their resources to California that doesn’t mean the Rogue Valley is unprotected.
“They pull departments that are able to provide supplemental extra people for that,” he said. “It’s not a financial encumbrance to individual agencies.”
Sawall says FEMA reimburses all agencies for any expenses used on the strike teams since the requests for assistance go through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a national state-to-state mutual aid system.
To Sawall, the national strike team system is essential in this day and age.
“Without a compact, without mutual aid, without communities helping communities,” he said. “We would have larger deadlier disasters in the United States and specifically in the Pacific Northwest.”
Other agencies have also sent resources to help in fighting the Camp Fire such as the Oregon Department of Forestry which has sent two engine and four personnel and the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office sending five officers.