County fire task force happy not to be needed
Public safety Rain storms neutralize fires near John Day before crews from Newberg, Lafayette, McMinnville and Dundee arrive
JOHN DAY, Ore. In a rare occurrence, Mother Nature actually did Oregon firefighters a favor recently, putting out fires that threatened the city of John Day early in the morning of Aug. 9.
The Yamhill County Task Force, including crews from Dundee and Newberg, was called in by the state fire marshal and departed at 5 a.m., but were more than happy to learn en route that rain storms had already effectively neutralized the Grouse Mountain Complex fire.
The task force was told to continue on to the scene as a precaution and returned to Yamhill County Aug. 10.
At about 2:30 that morning they had a major rain storm come through and basically put the fire out, said volunteer Battalion Chief Gert Zoutendijk of the Newberg Fire Department, who led the taskforce. When we got there, there was some smoke in all the black area, but nothing around the edges and nothing was threatening anymore. The reason they didnt cancel us was because when we were there we watched several lightning storms come through with major lightning hits they werent sure what was going to happen.
According to Zoutendijk, local firefighters had been working Aug. 8 to put out blazes on the north and south sides of John Day, focusing their efforts on the larger one to the south. Wind had been pushing the northern fire away from town, but shifted at some point that day, prompting authorities to request assistance from the state.
Finding a rare stroke of luck during in what has been an already busy fire season, the rain came just in time, as Zoutendijk estimated that fire had been stopped about 200 meters from a subdivision on the northern edge of town.
If it hadnt rained Im not sure we would have even been there on time, he said. It definitely would have been really hectic and they would have been in a world of hurt.
The Yamhill task force hadnt been called into service by the state since fighting a fire at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation northwest of Madras for five days in 2011. Dundee Fire Chief John Stock of the Yamhill County Fire Defense Board said he could remember only one time in his career when an assistance call had been so brief.
Zoutendijk, who has volunteered with the Newberg Fire Department for 14 years and earlier this year was promoted to fire marshal after 13 years serving with the Lake Oswego Fire Department, led a crew of 17 from Dundee, Lafayette, McMinnville and Newberg utilizing two fire engines, two brush trucks and one water tender. He said he was pleased with the efficiency of the operation and its safe execution because, although the vehicles are designed to travel up and down hills while weighed down with water, thats not what we do every day.
Its always a concern, especially in the back of your mind, when we just had a 19-year-old even though it was a private contractor at the Douglas complex, he rolled a tender and died, Zoutendijk said. Its kind of in the back of your mind when youre in charge of the big group that we dont get injured or get in an accident. I was very pleased with the entire group, how we did and acted and that we got home safe.
He added that even though the county task force has been called into action about every other year during his tenure, he wouldnt be surprised if it was called into duty again this summer.
This year weve had a few more conflagrations already, but unfortunately the seasons not over yet; its Oregon. Zoutendijk said. Were hoping not to go again because that means someone else is having troubles, but were kind of expecting that we might get activated again.