WENATCHEE — More than 1,000 people have been dispatched to the line to help contain the wildfires around Wenatchee, and after their day (or night) fighting fire, most have been shown to Confluence State Park to camp.
Treyce Schireman, a second-year firefighter from La Grande, Ore., arrived at camp on Monday in a type-six engine. The type-six’s are largely used on wild fires because they are built on full-size pickups and are more mobile in hills than structure engines.
But with the absence of a designated camp crew, engine crews like Schireman’s, are filling the void to make sure the basic needs of those 1,000 workers are met.
“They’ll probably keep us around when the camp crew gets here because we set everything up and know how everything is operating,” Schireman said.
In incidents as large as the Canyons, Peavine and Poisons fires, the camps erected overnight are like small cities, according to John Aldana, the superintendent for the Olympic Correction Center, near Forks.
Aldana came to camp Thursday to check on two of the center’s crews that are running the meals.
He estimated his crews were working 18 hours a day to feed the workers, starting at 2:30 a.m., getting a few hours break in the late morning, and then continuing work at 11:30 a.m.
The correctional crew catering food is moving on to Entiat, Aldana said, to support the efforts of the smaller force up there.
Michael Parent, an engine boss with North Pacific Forestry, and his crew were assigned to help maintain the supplies Thursday morning. He is skipping lunches to lose weight but said breakfasts and dinners are great. “These guys cook to make a point,” Parent said. “And I can tell you, we haven’t had a slack meal yet.
Elton Thomas, retired from the U.S. Forest Service, said night operations can be especially effective in containing the fires because the cooler temperatures and higher humidity slow the fire activity.
Thomas remains active as part of a federal team that manages incidents of this size, a type-one incident.
“There are four main areas our team is in charge of,” Thomas said. “Finance, planning, logistics and operations.”
Operations is in charge of the tactics the personnel will use to fight the fire and logistics makes sure they have the gear and the food and water to sustain the personnel. Finance pays for everything and planning — where Thomas works — puts the plans on paper to clearly communicate the information to everyone on the fire.
As the fires grew and more agencies got involved, the state Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service jointly made the decision to hand command over to an incident management team, in this case, Team Three, made up of USFS employees.
Right now, the camp is still growing, Thomas said.
The medical unit leader of Team Three, Jim Powell, said his first-aid tent will double in size in the next day to account for the additional “customers” they’re likely to start seeing.
“We typically start to see more blisters, colds, gastrointestinal problems,” Powell said. “But we try to be as self-sufficient as possible. Powell said they keep two medics in the tent at all times and they have six out on the line during the day.
The main concern, as with every big fire camp, is the attempt to prevent “camp crud,” which consists of upper respiratory problems, Powell said.
“Not everybody gets it real bad, I’ve never had it real bad,” Schireman said. “But there’s not much you can do to prevent it from entering camp. Just keep washing your hands.”
The daily “ground pounders” can only keep taking advantage of the sanitary stations and mobile shower units to combat the spread of illness.
“But it’s nice here,” Schireman said. “It’s nice camping in a recreational park on green grass, coming from the desert.”