By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Local crews back from Two Bulls mission

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB NewsOfficials organize firefighting efforts at the Two Bulls Fire Incident Command Center.
Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB News
Officials organize firefighting efforts at the Two Bulls Fire Incident Command Center.

They were assigned to a unit charged with protecting homes on the city's fringe. But an inversion settled over the city, helping calm the fire, slow its spread and allow fire crews to gain the upper hand.

Severe drought conditions have made much of the state ripe for fire, particularly the central and eastern portions, according to Assistant Chief Steve Rex of the McMinnville Fire Department, one of four that lent crews.

 “It's very early in the year for a fire to get this big this fast," he said. "I guess Central and Eastern Oregon, they were talking about it being a couple months ahead of time, by how dry the fields are. It's weather more like the end of July or August.”

The fire peaked at 6,000 acres Sunday night. Then the weather turned, easing the threat.

Yamhill County got a call for aid Sunday. The McMinnville, Yamhill and Dundee fire departments each dispatched one rig and the Newberg Fire Department dispatched two. They convoyed to the site from the Newberg Fire State.

Members of the local contingent were assigned to the night shift, working from 7 p.m to 7 a.m., along a perimeter established eight miles west of Bend. Their job was to extinguish embers flying ahead of the main blaze, in order to protect houses in urban interface.

Had the fire continued raging, they fight have faced its full brunt. But as the inversion layer settled in, they could see the fire slowing.

“They accomplished a lot in the evening that night," Rex said of crews on the main lines. "They flew their helicopters and aircraft until dark.”

Yamhill County's firefighters slept through Monday in Tumalo State Park, then returned to their posts in the evening.

“We worked again about five hours on Monday night," Rex said. "Then at midnight, they sent us back to sleep. Then we got up and demobilized Tuesday morning.”

The state will reimburse the departments for wages, fuel and the use of their equipment.

While Yamhill County is current rated “abnormal” rather than "extreme" on the dryness scale, the continuing drought bears watching locally as well, Rex said.

“I know the Oregon Department of Forestry is very concerned with our moisture levels,” he said.

He urged residents of rural areas to clear enough trees and brush to maintain a “defensible space” around their homes.

“If you do have a home out in the rural area, you have to be aware of that, and keep the brush down, and keep the firewood stacked away from your home, keep the trees trimmed up,” Rex said.

“Keep the grass cut, because if the grass catches and then goes to the lower limbs of the trees, then it goes up. It's what they call ladder fuels. The more people can do to take care of their own property, the more it does to help the firefighters if they do have to fight a fire in that area.”

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