Clallam fire chief sent to Oregon wildfires

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

A Clallam County fire chief was deployed Tuesday to help manage the safety of firefighters at a major fire in Oregon as part of a national response to a series of massive wildfires burning in eight Western states.

Fire Chief Sam Phillips of Clallam County Fire District No. 2 was called to help manage the Curry Canyon Fire in southeastern Oregon, but he likely is to be reassigned to a new, explosively growing fire in northeast Oregon, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.

The Curry Canyon Fire has burned 4,500 acres and was about one-fourth contained as of Tuesday.

No structures are threatened, but after 19 firefighters died in a wildfire in Arizona on Saturday, fire managers are being extra cautious, Phillips said.

“They don’t normally do this,” he said.

Fires are being managed more closely after members of a hotshot elite firefighter team died while trying to protect a town from the fast-moving Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona.

Phillips may be reassigned to a lightning-sparked wildfire near Owyhee, Ore., that quickly spread to 40,000 acres, with a possible threat to Lake Owyhee State Park campground and Owyhee Dam, or to a new complex of three fires in Malheur County, on the Oregon-Idaho state line, that had not been named as of Tuesday, said Carolyn Chad, associate district manager of the Vale BLM Dispatch Center.

Twenty-two uncontrolled major fires are burning in Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Phillips is a federally certified safety officer and is deployed as part of Pacific Northwest Team 2 — a Type I fire management incident team that manages major wildfires in the Western U.S.

He described the task ahead of him as to staff fire lines, assess risks and to advise the incident commander of the best methods to mitigate risks to the firefighters.

“When there are people’s lives in danger, we go all out. We will risk quite a bit,” Phillips said.

When property is at risk, the risk is balanced, he said, but when it’s all sagebrush or other uninhabited country, firefighter safety is the most important factor.

He is deployed with the permission of the District 2 commissioners.

Assistant Fire Chiefs Mike De-Rousie and Dan Huss will manage District 2 operations during Phillips’ absence.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 02. 2013 6:27PM
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