High winds are coming and that’s just what the firefighters on the Falls Creek Fire, southwest of Joseph, were dreading.
The National Weather Service issued a warning today (Aug. 27) that west to southwest winds from 25 to 35 miles per hour and gusts up to 45 miles per hour are expected in the valley on Saturday, Aug. 29.
Those winds are in the right direction to carry the fire away from the 61 homes in danger, but with those winds there’s no predicting exactly where that fire may go as it travels.
It may circle around and come back to those homes.
“Our priority is keeping the fire out of the heavy timber to the east and north of the fire.” said Incident 3 Commander Francis Tyler.
To that end, the 168 firefighters (up from 116 reported Wednesday) on the 396-acre Falls Creek Fire up Hurricane Creek Road have sprinklers, pumps and water tanks deployed for both property protection and as a fire line further up the canyon.
“Thirty of the 61 homes in the evacuation area have sprinklers,” said Derek Shawley, superintendent of Foxtrot Group, Incident 3 Command Team.
Shawley was quick to praise Joseph Fire Department for leading the effort to get water to those homes while the interagency command team called in the power of the federal government.
Joseph Fireman Tom Clevenger was amazed by both the power of the federal response and the speed at which they responded. The fire was reported Saturday, Aug. 22. The Interagency Incident 3 Command team arrived Sunday.
“When the feds moved in, I think they came from Boise, they were ordering supplies that Sunday and everything started arriving on Sunday night,” Clevenger said. “I heard the helicopters and saw they had slings instead of buckets and knew it was supplies. It’s amazing to see the machine that starts working. We’re sitting here with our little new pump and hose and then here comes the federal government.”
The new pump Clevenger refers to is a fortuitous recent purchase that came to Joseph by way of the Oregon Department of Forestry, which purchased the pump from Army Surplus.
“When ODF called us and asked us if we needed this pump we said, ‘we might have a need for that – and sure enough.’” Clevenger said.
Joseph Fire Department (JFD) just got the pump running last week.
“When we started on Sunday morning there were no supplies available on-site, so we started with that pump we got,” Clevenger said.
JFD planted their pump at an irrigation canal near the homes off of Matterhorn Lane, dammed the canal to bring the water level up, and began pumping 1,000 gallons per minute.
“We provided water with that big pump to eight or nine houses and laid out 3,200 feet of structure fire hose (a very large diameter hose),” Clevenger said.
Then the cavalry arrived.
“All of the gear (now protecting 30 houses) came into the valley and was deployed in two and a half days,” said Clevenger. “They were ordering supplies on Sunday and everything started arriving on Sunday night.”
Among the things that the Incident Command Team ordered in were enough 1,000- to 1,500-gallon water tanks to supply another 22 homes in the area with a ready source of water. They also brought in “big boxes of giant Rainbird sprinklers,” Clevenger said.
“We set those up at each house, watering lawns and homes — covering the whole area,” he said.
Two large water-tenders taking water from the dammed irrigation canal easily refill the tanks.
“They fill at the main pump and can be filled in 15 minutes,” Clevenger said. “Without that filling station they’d have to drive into Joseph and fill out of a hydrant. We cut the fill time in half.”
Meanwhile, up the canyon, the interagency team set up another pump, ran more line, and set out more sprinklers.
“They helicoptered lines and pumps up to the fire line,” Clevenger reported. “They’re tapping the creeks up there for the water. There are probably thousands of feet of wildfire firefighting hose up there.”
The numbers of firefighters continue to swell as more and more are called in.
“Those firefighters come from as far away as Florida and Alabama,” said Eagle Cap Deputy District Ranger Jake Lubera. “Everyone who is qualified to fight fire in the Forest Service, no matter who you are, is getting mobilized. This is truly an interagency grouping of Forest Service and ODF resources and the Joseph Fire Department has been a great help.”