Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Boots on the Ground: WCC crews supporting ongoing firefighting efforts

By Bridget Mason, WCC Coordinator, Washington Conservation Corps

WCC crew moving fuel cans for equipment
Credit: Ernie Farmer
Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members have been busy this wildfire season. We currently have two 10-person AmeriCorps crews responding to wildfires in Washington – with a third 10-person crew joining the response this evening.

Here’s a summary of the five Washington wildfires to which WCC has responded:

Navarre Fire near Entiat

A six-person WCC crew was deployed to the Navarre Coulee fire near Entiat on July 7. The crew spent five days acting as a camp crew, serving meals, coordinating camp logistics, and supplying equipment to the fire line.

Taylor Bridge near Cle Elum

The recent Taylor Bridge fire near Cle Elum was a lengthy response effort due to high winds and dry weather conditions – fueled by diseased timber. The fire was sparked by a welding project on the Taylor Bridge that destroyed over 60 homes and burned nearly 24,000 acres. There were also a significant number of farms and farm animals lost in the fire.

On Aug. 13, WCC deployed eight AmeriCorps members and two crew supervisors to assist with efforts to contain the fire. AmeriCorps members from Bellevue, Ellensburg, Seattle, Wenatchee and Yakima established a base camp by setting up yurts, telephone lines and supply trailers. The team also coordinated donations, served meals and supplied equipment to the fire line.

When additional resources were requested midway through the response effort, we expanded to include 13 AmeriCorps members directed by two WCC crew supervisors. The team stood down 12 days later on Aug. 25 when the Taylor Bridge fire was downgraded.

The team spent their final day helping nearly 800 responders demobilize and inventorying supplies – including re-coiling and packaging more than 17 miles of fire hose for future responses.

Highway 141 near White Salmon

An AmeriCorps crew of two WCC supervisors and eight WCC members from the Ellensburg/Yakima area are on their sixth day of responding to the Highway 141 fire near White Salmon in the Columbia Gorge.

The crew is coordinating logistics at the fire camp, delivering hose and equipment to the fire line and providing assistance as an engine crew. The fire is burning in very steep country but containment efforts have gone well. We expect our crew to demobilize Thursday or Friday.

Manila/Columbia Complex

On Sept. 10, a 10-person crew made up of WCC members and supervisors from Ellensburg, Olympia, Seattle and Tacoma arrived at the Manila/Columbia Complex Fire near Grand Coulee on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Six crew members are part of our inaugural Washington Conservation Corps Veterans crew. The supervisor and all five WCC members all served as members of the military prior to joining AmeriCorps. They are two weeks from completing their one-year service in AmeriCorps. It has been quite a year for these Veterans – from removing tsunami-related marine debris along Washington’s coast to assisting with firefighting efforts in Eastern Washington.

The Manila/Columbia Complex fire is 60 percent contained but there are numerous fires burning in area shrub and grasslands. The crew is helping manage the camp, delivering equipment and supplies, as well as undertaking engine crew work and line construction.

Okanogan Complex near Twisp

We are in the process of deploying a 10-person crew to the Okanogan Complex of fires near Twisp. Projects will consist of camp crew activities – including camp management and equipment/supply delivery.

More about WCC response work

The WCC has 70 members and staff certified to fight wildfires that are available for wildfire response, if needed. This certification is just one of several offered in the WCC program. We provide crews at a moment’s notice. We have provided first-hand assistance to citizens in Washington and across the nation during floods, fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

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