Dean Brown from Enterprise Fire Department and Amanda McHatton from Joseph joined Oregon Dept. of Forestry Protection Supervisor Matt Howard as part of the Northeast Oregon Taskforce Strike Team earlier this month.
Wallowa County Emergency Services Manager Paul Karvosky confirmed that the local firefighters have contacted him advising they may be staying beyond their initial 14-day deployment.
They were on the front lines in the city of Paradise in the Sierra foothills 15 miles east of Chico, working with search and rescue, Karvosky reported.
“They’ve told me some horror stories that happened during the fire,” Karvosky said. “What those residents went through at the time of the fire is just unbelievable. The fire came on them so fast –– that’s why there’s going to be a death toll. The fire overran some, and they died in their cars trying to escape.”
The official death toll had exceeded 70 Monday morning.
Karvosky said initially the fire was moving in eight foot leaps every minute with 50 mph. wind pushing it.
People were fleeing in their pajamas and escape routes were clogged with traffic.
Paradise had a population of approximately 27,000. Karvosky said he tells people that La Grande has a population of 17,000, so imagine if La Grande were simply wiped off the map.
“That’s what firefighters were seeing at Paradise,” he said. “They’ve sent me some photos, but they are tragic — not suitable for publication.”
The fire camp at Chico Fairgrounds houses 6,000 people, Karvosky said.
“Oregon has the largest contingent of firefighters from the western states: 17 teams, 320 men and women,” he said.