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Oregon Military Department attacks Central Oregon wildfires
News Release
Distribution:  Major Media
August 8, 2013
Contact:  David Morman, 541-447-5658, dmorman@odf.state.or.us 
Oregon Military Department attacks Central Oregon wildfires
Since late July, the Oregon Military Department (OMD) has joined the Central Oregon District of the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in battling forest and rangeland fires.  Four OMD firefighters and two 400-gallon engines are currently assigned to ODF’s Prineville Unit Office, ready for dispatch as initial attack responders to any new fires.
With wildfires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in southwest Oregon, firefighters and equipment are in short supply regionally and even nationally.  ODF’s Prineville Unit Forester, Kevin Benton, believes this cooperative arrangement with OMD is critical to maintaining adequate wildfire suppression capacity in Central Oregon during extreme fire danger.
“With local cooperators and even our own local agency personnel being assigned to large fires elsewhere in the state, access to the military’s firefighting expertise and equipment has already paid off,” said Benton.  “During last week’s storms over 4000 lightning strikes were detected in central Oregon.  On private, state, and local government forest and rangelands protected by ODF, 12 new fires started.  The OMD crews and engines were instrumental in initial attack on nine of these fires and keeping them all small.”
OMD also benefits from working on wildland fires.  Based at the 43,000-acre Biak Training Center east of Redmond, the first priority for their firefighters and engines is normally providing fire suppression capacity during Oregon National Guard training exercises.  “Fires resulting from training exercises are usually small and infrequent,” says Seth Nickell, OMD Fire and Emergency Services Captain.  “Working on wildfires on ODF-protected lands provides our firefighters with extensive experience they would not otherwise gain.”
Nickell is no stranger to wildland firefighting.  He worked five fire seasons for ODF’s Central Oregon District before being hired by OMD and helping to form its Fire and Emergency Services Program three years ago.  “His knowledge of the area and how my agency operates has been invaluable,” said Benton.  One of the other crewmen staffing military’s  twoengines also has previous firefighting experience from work with the U.S. Forest Service.
OMD firefighters trained beside their ODF counterparts before fire season began and are fully qualified to provide initial attack on wildfires.  “Our hope is that with this fire season’s experience we will be able to add to the qualifications of our employees so they can serve on a variety of fire suppression roles in the future,” said Nickell.  “If possible, OMD would like to further expand its fire suppression capacity and develop additional cooperative agreements with ODF and other state, local, and federal agencies.”
Until fire danger decreases, Benton expects both his own and military’s crews to remain on duty seven days a week.  “We will see how much rain will come with the next series of predicted lightning storms.  We always hope for the best, but we are prepared for the worst,” said Benton.