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HFD's Engine 353
HFD brings home lessons after helping on Camp Fire posted on 01/01/2019

For Hoodland Fire District (HFD) Lieutenant Andy Figini, the concept of defendable space – the area around a home or structure that is cleared from debris and other paths for fire to travel – was driven home during the 12 days he spent at California’s Camp Fire in November.

One well-prepared structure in particular, a ranch and outbuildings that had a gravel driveway and no litter or debris around it, illustrated what a difference it can make.

“That was the difference between a house that became a foundation and a house that was still standing,” said Figini, a four-year veteran of the HFD. “That was one of the houses that stayed standing.”

Figini and two other HFD firefighters, Senior Firefighter/Paramedic Tyler Myers and Volunteer Dawson Kooch, helped in the efforts battling the Camp Fire, a 153,336-acre fire that destroyed nearly 14,000 residences and nearly 5,000 other buildings, while killing 86 people. Figini and Myers, both of whom have been part of previous conflagrations in Oregon, noted the Camp Fire was unlike what they have experienced here, where dry grass makes fires move fast.

“These were trees and big wooded areas that just were gone,” Figini said. “That is not something we get in Oregon very often. I don’t think it can be compared to anything I’ve ever gone to before.”

In addition, the Camp Fire burned through populated areas, with Myers describing some of the towns impacted as equivalent to Gresham.

“It was tough seeing all the people affected,” he said, adding that it was “pretty incredible” to see the human response to the destruction, including donations and how people connected.

The HFD crew, including a rig, worked on a fire line to make sure the fire didn’t jump containment. A shift would last 24 hours straight, with the following 24 hours off, a difference from large events in Oregon where firefighters work 12 hours on and then 12 hours off. Myers, who has been with the HFD for five years, also noted he learned about how a large response to a mass incident works in California.

Figini noted that he’ll take some lessons from the experience, including increased awareness of fire fuels, an expanded situational awareness of where he goes to fight fires and about always thinking about what they would do if the fire did continue to spread.

“We all had some good experience getting out there, putting the stuff we’ve been training on and using it,” he added.

Meanwhile, Figini did note two positives that came out of such a devastating fire. The first has to do with the final map of the area impacted by the fire. At the bottom, he noted, lies a notch of unburnt terrain, where the HFD crew and other Oregon teams did a back burn and stopped the fire.

“I like to think that maybe we had a good hand in stopping that part of the fire,” he said.

The second positive happened on the outskirts of Paradise, a town of 26,000 that was mostly destroyed by the fire. While performing building searches, Figini noted he heard a scream and he then discovered a goat entangled in some orange construction netting. The firefighters were able to free the animal, which then followed them around for the next 90 minutes.

“It was a pretty nice goat,” Figini said. “That was a good positive highlight of our day.”

By Garth Guibord/MT

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