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Editorial: Thank you, firefighters

Brad Shinpaugh and Steve Black stand watch over the Blackburn fire.

Brad Shinpaugh and Steve Black stand watch over the Blackburn fire.

— They also serve who only stand and wait.

— John Milton

Milton wasn’t talking about firefighters when he wrote those words, but they fit all the same.

Many of the firefighters who could be seen by local residents were waiting, like Brad Shinpaugh and Capt. Steve Black in the photo at right, who manned a water truck Aug. 18 at the head of Reservoir Road while waiting to be called into service.

Shinpaugh, on the left, is with the Forest Grove Fire and Rescue. Black is from the Cornelius Fire Department.

Down the road at the Wicks water treatment plant, Lt. Dean Schulze of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue also stood vigil.

Others patrolled up and down roads, warning residents to be prepared to leave, and helping homeowners clear defensible spaces around their homes to give them the best possible opportunity to survive the blaze.

Sadly, two homes have already been lost in the lightning-sparked Blackburn Fire, the most tenacious of the three blazes that make up the Government Flats Complex. The Government Flat Fire and Wells Fire have been contained, but Blackburn had grown to 4,700 acres at last estimate.

This is a complicated fire to battle, burning along cliffsides and in the narrow, rugged canyons leading off from the main creek valleys south of The Dalles.

The winds swirl in unpredictable patterns in those canyons, making the challenges even greater, along with the 90-plus-degree heat.

When a disaster strikes of this proportion, it is vital to rely on friends and neighbors — and to watch out for them in return. This is equally true in the firefighting community.

Our own Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue and the local Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters can’t do the job alone, so they must call on neighboring fire agencies to come to their aid. And when the governor invokes the Conflagration Act, as he has for the Government Flats Complex, the word “neighbor” takes on even broader proportions.

“It’s called community-based firefighting,” said Tommy Schroeder, a spokesman for the complex. “The whole idea is to share resources.” What happens is that a lot of agencies send a few personnel, sharing what resources they can without leaving their own jurisdictions dangerously short.

By the first morning after the Saturday night Conflagration Act declaration, at least 24 agencies were in The Dalles and on the fire scene, not to mention the various support agencies that make fighting a fire possible: law enforcement, logistics (food, sanitation, etc.), emergency shelter for humans and animals, among others.

But make no mistake, firefighting efforts around the state and the West are spread thin in this particularly hot, dry fire season. Oregon, alone, has nine active wildfires involving interagency response.

It’s a dangerous and difficult task we ask of our firefighters — one deserving of thanks every time you see someone in characteristic boots and Kevlar clothing.

So thank you, firefighters, both local and visiting, and thanks to all the other supporting people and organizations that are helping to keep the devastation as small as possible.

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