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Canal Creek Fire first test of new incident management team
For immediate release
Major media distribution
Sept. 2, 2009
Contacts: Rod Nichols, Oregon Dept. of Forestry, 503-945-7425
Judith McHugh, USDA Forest Service, 541-225-6305

When the Canal Creek Fire broke out near Detroit on Aug. 26, the fast-moving blaze provided a field test of the newly formed Southern Cascades Incident Management Team. Within a few hours after being dispatched, the interagency team made up of U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) wildfire specialists was onsite directing firefighting operations. Quick-response units like the Southern Cascades team provide logistical support, tactical oversight of the fire ground, and manage risks to firefighter safety.
Drawn from the Willamette and Umpqua National Forests and ODF’s South Cascade District, the team members already knew the value of working together across agency boundaries on fires. Privately owned forests intermingle with National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the region. To provide better protection coverage and reduce costs, the agencies routinely assist each other in attacking new fires, regardless of where they start. They also cooperate in training new firefighters at a school held in Sweet Home each June.
ODF’s Greg Wagenblast said that when fire managers from the state and federal agencies formed the team this June, they were formalizing a long-standing working relationship.
"The team brings structure and organization to a wildfire or any all-hazard effort," the Springfield-based forester said.
While most incident management teams in the West came into being to tackle large wildfires, in recent years their know-how has proven equally effective on other natural and human-caused disasters ranging from earthquakes, to floods, to 9/11. The Southern Cascades Team intends to expand into this "all-hazard" role in future by also bringing local fire departments onto the team.
This fall, the organizers will meet with all of the agencies that were involved in the planning to see if the team can meet its original objectives and expand from wildfire to include an array of disaster scenarios with the addition of other fire service and public safety agencies.
"We'll focus on wildland fire for the first year or two," Wagenblast said, "then expand to an all-hazard focus."
The addition of rural and municipal fire department personnel to the team would expand its capability to manage wildfires and other incidents that threaten public safety, homes and businesses.
The Type 3 Southern Cascades team (an Incident Command System classification based on the number of personnel) is made up of just six members. The small size has distinct advantages over the larger Type 2 and Type 1 firefighting organizations - more rapid deployment, and reduced cost. Currently, a fire manager faced with a wildfire too large or complex for local resources to handle must order one of the larger teams. The new team provides a middle option that can save money.
When the Forest Service and ODF conceived the idea of forming an incident management team to encompass the Willamette National Forest, the Cottage Grove Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest and ODF’s South Cascade District, there were models nearby to emulate. Central and eastern Oregon have interagency teams in place with solid track records of fighting fire cost-effectively in a region known for active wildfire seasons.
The membership of the Southern Cascades team is evenly balanced between ODF and Forest Service. And because the Willamette National Forest shares its fire staff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eugene District, both federal agencies actually have representation on the team.
A steering committee made up of fire management officers from the Willamette and Umpqua National Forests (and BLM), and protection unit foresters from ODF oversees the Southern Cascades Incident Management Team.
"We’re pleased to be taking this next step together with our interagency partners," Mike Matarrese, fire staffer with the Willamette National Forest and BLM, said. "It’s cost-effective and just plain smart."
Wagenblast and his federal and local fire agency counterparts recognize there will be institutional and jurisdictional obstacles to surmount in developing a true interagency team. But the advantages make the goal worth pursuing.
"I think we have great potential with a full mix of fire service and public safety folks coming together to provide a true interagency team that will benefit the citizens locally and the state overall," he said.