Prince Albert firefighters return after devastating wildfire in Oregon
PRINCE ALBERT -- Parks Canada firefighters are back home and out of quarantine after working in Oregon battling the most devastating wildfire in the state’s history.
“They were happy to have us there. They were happy with our work and they definitely showed their appreciation. Even the kids making posters and people sending us letter. That was something different for us,” said fire manager technician Erik Gillies.
He’s now back at work at his post in Prince Albert National Park with Parks Canada. He worked on a ground crew fire line with hand tools putting out fires.
Ron Graham, deputy chief of fire protection of the Oregon Department of Forestry, said the summer of 2020 was an slightly below average fire season until Labour Day weekend, when unusual high winds caused the rapid expansion of 12 forest fires in the state.
“We had a very significant, some say historic, wind event and that really changed everything for us. Suddenly had 12 large fires burning across our landscape at once and we had over 500 acres on fire at that point,” said Graham.
More than 300 Canadian fire fighters trained in wildfire suppression were deployed to Oregon, including 25 Parks Canada wildland fire management specialists, seven from Prince Albert. Fire fighters regularly cross borders into other countries under the Mutual Aid Resource Sharing (MARS) agreement. Training and standards for wildfire suppression are similar in Canada and the United States.
The fires caused thick smoke making it difficult for water-bomber planes and water-bucket helicopters to fly above the fires.
Forty thousand people were evacuated and another 500,000 people were placed on stand-by evacuation orders. More than 4,500 structures were lost in the fire and more than one million combined acres were burned.
“That’s pretty significant for us. We have not seen that kind of acres burned on our protection lands since the 1930s during the famous Tillamook fires,” said Graham. “And in those years they did not burn more than 300,000 acres in any of those years.”
There are still six fires burning in Oregon. Crews remain on the contained fire on “mop-up duty” extinguishing small ground fires.