An Oregon fire scene has been the work location for Watauga County Forest Ranger Stuart Scott over the last few weeks. At one point there were 770 personnel battling the 41,716-acre “Rail Fire”, which began five miles west of Unity, Oregon, on Sunday, July 31st. The cause is unknown and under investigation, according to the US Forest Service. As of Wednesday September 7 the fire was 90% contained and the Forest Service was allowing some firefighters and equipment to return back to their service areas. Ranger Scott is expected to return back to Watauga sometime this week.
In an email interview last week, Ranger Scott gave WataugaOnline.com insight about the reason he was called out west, and the fire fighting efforts. His full comments, along with some photos, are below.
“Each western fire season, qualified fireman are listed in a national database called ROSS (resource ordering and status system) according to the specialities they have gained experience in during their careers. I serve as an Engine Boss, Heavy Equipment Boss, and Tree Falling Boss. I am currently working towards becoming a medical unit leader among other things.
As resources get stretched thin across the west, the incidents will begin pulling from the ROSS system for the jobs they need filled. When your qualifications fit the need, you are ordered to fight the fires. Typically we get a call and need to be at the airport within two or three hours and can be deployed on the incident the very same day. Preparedness is crucial to helping during these times. We keep our bags packed and ready at the back door during July, August and September in case the call comes in.
Dispatches last 14-18 days and can extend to 21 days if needed. Then two days rest and the call can hit again. Obviously this can be extremely stressful but adventurous for those of us who enjoy it.
Camp typically consists of sleeping on the ground or in a tent at a school or open area (Incident Command Post), even in the wilderness if the need is crucial to holding the fireline. Meals are provided at nearly 5000 calories each to replenish the energy burned/expended in rough terrain.
Everything you see, touch, smell, taste is dusty and dirty as these areas see little to no rain during the summer months and the soil becomes a fine powder that coats everything. Of course the jobs are extremely dangerous and require constant awareness of one's surroundings. I like to say it's “big boy” time where mistakes are not an option.
Several of our county firemen qualify each year and obtain their red cards to join crews or be dispatched as single resources like myself. Each year we must pass a physical fitness test to earn our red cards and you can see that happen in October as we test on Boone's Greenway. The “pack test” consists of wearing a 45lbs pack or vest, for an extended period of time while hiking over long distances to simulate the rigors of the job.
Most work times are 06:00-21:00 (6am-9pm) which makes for extremely long hours but allows for lots of work to be completed. Some of the most fun parts are flying in helicopters, working in burning forests during the dark evening hours and seeing areas of the wilderness that few people ever get to see.”
Photos: Stuart Scott