County firefighters return from Tool Box fire

This picture was taken of the Tool Box fire last week, a fire which burned over 86,000 acres of land in south-central Oregon as of Tuesday morning.

LONG BEACH - Battling Oregon's Tool Box fire was a little easier last week thanks to two of Pacific County Fire District No. 1's finest.

Firefighters Lt. Mike Karvia and Lt. Rodney Harrington left Long Beach and headed off to the south-central Oregon wildfire on July 18, a week after the fire started. They returned on Friday after battling the blaze for seven straight days. The fire was ignited by a lightning strike.

Harrington said he and Karvia were impressed by the sheer size of the fire when they arrived near Silver Lake, Ore.

"The fire moved quickly and at times you would put out one fire and another fire would start right back up from a brand, which is a flying amber or a spark," said Harrington. "It was pretty stressful for my partner and me. You've got people's lives in your hands. This was the biggest fire I've ever fought in."

Harrington and Karvia started their day each day about 40 miles from Silver Lake at the base camp at 4:30 a.m., and by 7 a.m. they were fighting the fire. Their day lasted until 7 p.m. and was only broken up by their lunch break, which was in the form of a bag lunch. They went back to the base camp and got in line to eat between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

"We ate first then we got cleaned up," said Karvia. "By the time we got to our tent and got to sleep it was after 10 p.m. Then we started the whole thing over the next morning at 4:30 a.m."

Karvia said the base camp consisted of hundreds and hundreds of tents which the firefighters, which came from all over the country, slept in each night.

"Every day we were there new people that arrived," said Harrington. "There were hotshots from all over the U.S. A hotshot is a Type 1 firefighter."

Both Harrington and Karvia said they were a little sore from the experience, but were glad they had the chance to fight in the fire. They said they were grateful to Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue for giving them the opportunity to participate in such a complex fire.

According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, as of Tuesday morning, the fire, which is located 10 miles south of Silver Lake, Ore. has already consumed over 86,000 acres. At this time the fire is 65 percent contained.

"We were contacted by the Washington State Regional Mobilization Office on July 18 in order to mobilize local resources to the Oregon fire," said Tom O'Donohue, Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Fire Chief. "I would imagine every agency in Washington was contacted for resources."

O'Donohue said in the event of a large fire, such as the Tool Box fire, states such as Oregon will contact other states' fire-fighting agencies and departments to get more firefighters to battle the blaze. What normally happens, said O'Donohue, is that the firefighters in the state where the fire started will be utilized first and then firefighters from other states will be called in.

"The Washington State Regional Mobilization Office has also been asking for additional firefighters for fires taking place in the eastern Washington, but we didn't want to deplete our local resources any further," said O'Donohue. "Our first responsibility is on the Peninsula."

Sending local firefighters to fight fires outside of the Peninsula area usually comes up each summer, but the number sent out is limited to two full-time career firefighters.

In the event of fires outside the Peninsula area, equipment may also be sent out, but this too is limited in order to leave enough to fight any local fires which may occur.

According to O'Donohue, a brush unit was sent out to the Tool Box fire along with firefighters Karvia and Harrington.

"A brush unit, which is a 1 1/2-ton truck, can carry up to 200 gallons of water and also is a foam capable unit," said O'Dohohue.

This is one of several brush units which belong to Pacific County Fire District No. 1. It is one of six that is utilized on the Peninsula.

According to volunteer firefighter Doug Knutzen, there were two fires on the Peninsula within days of each other in the mid-80s during early July.

One was in the Beards Hollow area and burned approximately 40 acres. It was started by fireworks and took place just west of Thousand Trails-Naco West. The other fire was on the north jetty in Fort Canby State Park, and burned approximately 104 acres. It was also started by fireworks.

Last week, on July 23, a burn ban was issued for a number of Washington counties, including Pacific County.

"This is normal for this time of year, which is normally dry, and there is a potential fire," said Knutzen. "Another reason is because there are limited resources right now due to all the fires taking place in Oregon and eastern Washington."

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