Firefighters return from west coast fires
STEUBEN COUNTY--A 20-member crew of rangers, employees and volunteers from New York returned home last week after battling the fires on the west coast for the past two weeks. Among those who served are Wayne Fire Chief Larry Day Jr. and Forest Ranger Timothy Carpenter, two Steuben County residents who have years of experience between them fighting fires on the west coast.
Day said he spent some 14 days fighting the wildfires as a volunteer in Oregon, adding his whole trip was 19 days including travel time. He noted the crew from New York included 20 people, with approximately 1,900 people fighting the blazes at its height. Day added after awhile the blaze he was fighting got downsized and was no longer a high priority fire.
Day said this is not his first time fighting fires on the west coast, adding he has more than two decades of experience.
"I've been doing this since 1988," Day said. "It's something I have always done."
Day mentioned the fire crews work 16 hour days, staring at 5:30 a.m. and working until 10 p.m. with a half hour lunch. He said they also worked the swing shift, which was 10 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day. Day said during the swing shift they worked on the burning crew, which is tasked with burning the fuel between the fire and the control line that is established.
"Once the line is put in by the [bull]dozer, we burned back to the main fire to slow it down," Day said.
Some of the equipment Day described included helicopters that would dump water on the blaze, adding this is also the first time he has seen the use of fire resistant gel. He said it is also the first time he has seen them wrap structures in an aluminum foil type material in order to resist the heat. However, Day mentioned his crews mainly used hand tools and chainsaws. Day said other than the days they were doing back burning, his crew was mainly working off the bulldozer line and did not get too close to the main fire.
Day said after helping for so many years, he plans to take his son out with him at least once, adding then he may start thinking about giving it up.
"It is always a good time," Day said. "We had a really good crew and everyone got along really well."
Carpenter was dispatched to the 40,904 acre fire in Washington state from Aug. 4 to Aug. 14. He was a task force leader who was in charge of a mix of hand crews, fire engines, bulldozers and grinders during the firefighting efforts. Carpenter said a supervisor could be in charge of some 50 people at one time, with his job responsibility including putting in contingency lines to prevent the spread of the fire. Carpenter has been fighting fires out west since 1994, adding he has held numerous different positions working his way up to task force leader.
Carpenter said while he was there, California had the highest priority fires, so much of the resources were diverted there. He said this made it difficult to work sometimes, but the days where firefighting resources were occupied, they spent developing plans, noting they were active on the line for eight of the days he was out there.
Carpenter noted the only direct suppression of the fire came from helicopters that would dump between 300 and 1,000 gallon loads of water onto the flames. He said much of the fire took place on slopes that were too steep to battle directly, with much of his crews doing chainsaw work after the bulldozing.