Local trio helps fight wildfire in C. Oregon

Firefighters from Hood River give as well as receive expertise while helping fight the Waterfalls 2 fire in Central Oregon this week.

A paramedic, a fire strategist and a public information officer were all deployed on Aug. 14 to the 9,000-acre fire, 5 miles northeast of Mount Jefferson.

Fire Marshal Peter Mackwell is lending his planning skills, Lt. Doug Epperson is honing his outreach talents and engineer-paramedic Diedrick Snelling is providing medical care, through their roles within the U.S. Regional Forest Service Northwest Incident Management Team, which pays their salaries while they are away from Hood River.

“They bring a lot of assets to the fire,” said Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells.

“We can really help out, and it doesn’t really cost Hood River anything, but it helps the federal government, helps with fires, and these guys are getting major experience,” Wells said.

The lightning-started Waterfalls 2, 22 miles west of Warm Springs, is 9 percent contained as of Friday. Its fuels are timber and understory, dormant brush and hardwood slash.

In the past 48 hours, winds and lower humidity have helped spread the fire to the northeast, according to the Incident Management Team website, www.inciweb.com.

Sending three professionals to an out-of-county fire “doesn’t have an impact on our daily operations because we can cover with other people,” Wells said, though he declined a request to join the team at Waterfalls 2 because another officer was out on sick leave.

Mackwell is serving as a situation unit leader, working in planning section, which involves coordinating GIS and maps of the fire and helping get teams ready for each day’s assignments.

Epperson is assistant public information officer. He takes messages from fire command, helps run community meetings and works on website management and other outreach.

Snelling serves as incident medical specialist, working with the USFS medical group, either as paramedic at base camp or out on the fire line. Wells said he receives texts and emails every couple of days from the trio, and all are well.

“Peter is really good at his planning, working toward planning section chief (certification) and is pretty far up the chain,” Wells said. “He is a huge asset to the team as Incident Command knows him really well. Even in the off-season there are lots of emails back and forth from other fire planners helping each other.”

“They’re getting really valuable experiences to bring back to Hood River,” Wells said. “Seeing incident command and how it functions definitely helps them come back and operate inside that fire should we have one here.

“Diedrick has seen how big fires affect the medical branch,” and Epperson doesn’t have the opportunity to be PIO on a routine basis but down there he is doing nothing else for two weeks,” according to Wells, “working with some very high-intensity fire situations, with impacts on communities and evacuation notices.”

Wells said it will be good preparation for later if staffing allows him to move Epperson into doing more of an outreach role in Hood River.

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