COOS BAY — When a fire began in Empire on Wednesday, the Coos Bay Fire Department was ready.
Since last year, CBFD has worked on educating its first responders on wildland fires, especially since most of its calls are for structure fires and medical response.
“So wildland is not something we’re trained for because we don’t have the typical fire loads other places do,” said Battalion Chief Jeff Adkins with CBFD.
The biggest changes made since last year’s fire season has been education. According to Adkins, four firefighters have been sent to classes held by the Southwestern Oregon Firefighter Instructors Association, which helps volunteer agencies and combination departments become better equipped.
The trainings were held at Southwestern Oregon Community College during the spring.
“The idea is for them to take the training, go back to the host department, complete task books to make sure the skills are there, and then they are certified for wildland,” Adkins said.
CBFD has also replaced and updated some of its equipment, which spanned 20-to-30 years.
“So we got current stuff, including the clothing that we wear on top of our regular uniforms,” he said.
At the North Bend Fire Department, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Brown said they have been doing their annual recertifications as well.
“We do our continual wildland training to be sure everyone is up to required standards,” he said. “We change a little bit of our focus on vehicles that respond. We don’t have a lot of wildland in our city, but change out some of the larger hose with a wildland hose to make a quicker attack on grass fires.”
So far this year, North Bend has only had a couple small bark mulch fires.
“When it starts getting dry and windy, that’s when we get concerned,” he said.
On Wednesday, CBFD responded to the fire in Empire to find it had burned a small corner of Sause Bros.’ property off Ross Road.
“We were assisted by Coos Forest Protective Association because of the material involved,” Adkins said. “The type of material burning was from breakdowns of an old logging mill, so it is anywhere from a couple feet to 12 feet deep of this bark. Once the fire gets in there, it can stay, so we will check it for several days to make sure it doesn’t pop back up.”
The fire was likely caused by a discarded cigarette or a warming fire set by transients that wasn’t properly extinguished.
“These are dry conditions right now, so the winds kicked it up and spread it,” he said. “We’re lucky to have a great forest protection association here to help on calls like that. They are good community partners.”
Farther inland, Myrtle Point Fire Chief Dan Gardner said being prepared is their focus.
“Nothing changed out here, but we are more aware of what could happen because of last year,” he said. “We’ve equipped ourselves a little better in case we have to help out with a big one like we did last summer. We’ve checked our equipment, upgraded some things, made sure it’s all ready to go.”
Gardner referred to the Chetco Bar Fire, which erupted last summer. It scorched 190,000 acres and around 5,000 people were evacuated. Agencies from across the state stepped in to help battle the fire, including local departments.
As for now, both Coos Bay and North Bend are allowing open burning in both cities since moisture has been steady. Limits to open burning include the types of materials, and all fires must be out by dark.
“When our winds kick up like it does, we don’t want you to burn at all,” Brown said. “At this point there are no burn restrictions in the city limits, but if the wind kicks up we request they are put out.”
Not only that, but Brown pointed out that during tuna and salmon season, people use their smokers.
“We’ve had fires on people’s decks because they didn’t think that would be a problem, but it is a source for grass fires,” he said. “If you do in-town burning, be there with it all the time because it doesn’t take much to get out of control.”