KFD firefighters share story of wildfire battles

Firefighters spent weeks battling destructive blazes along the Cascade Mountains. Two Keizer firefighters were among those on the front lines (Submitted).

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, several Oregon counties issued a public emergency due to the multitude of wildfires causing destruction throughout the state. Many firefighters from Keizer Fire District (KFD) were called to different parts of the state to help try and contain the flames, including Aaron Pittis and Bill Herring.

Pittis and Herring have both been with KFD for nearly 20 years. But neither of them had seen fires in Oregon like the ones they saw last month.

“I had never experienced anything like this before. Trees that were 200 feet high were gone in a matter of seconds,” Herring said.

KFD sent a crew out to the Santiam Canyon fire at about 10 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7. Pittis and Herring knew that their time would come. It was just a matter of when.

“After listening to some radio traffic that night, we knew that it was going to get big really fast,” Herring said.

“We were preparing for some major stuff to happen,” Pittis added.

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 9, Pittis and Herring got the call to assist with the fires in Clackamas County as a part of a task force involving the Amity Fire Department, Marion County Fire District and the Silverton Fire Department.

Pittis was the engine boss on the truck with Herring. Both of them took orders from the task force leader, who was from Marion County Fire District.

In Oregon, most rotations during an active fire involve firefighters working in 12-hour shifts. In this case however, Pittis and Herring worked for more than 30 hours straight and weren’t pulled off the line until Thursday evening.

“We went up to Clackamas on Wednesday morning. Once we hit the ground at 11 a.m. we were going non-stop,” Pittis said. “When everything is so dry, water isn’t as effective and the fire spreads faster. We were doing the best we could to stop the spreading.”

With trees and debris falling in the dark, having trust in your other crew members is key according to Herring.

“After the first 12 hours or so, you just learn to trust and rely on one another,” Herring said.

Despite it being the longest shift either of them had ever worked, Pittis and Herring fought with valor to try to contain the fire.

“I felt comfortable the whole time I was up there. I wasn’t worried about myself or any of the staff,” Pittis said. “It’s all about having situational awareness. “

“It was definitely a unique situation. But at the end of the day, you can’t really think about being tired or being afraid. We had a job to do, so we just kept on going from one task to the other,” Herring added.

After being called off the Clackamas fire on Thursday Sept. 10, the task force returned to the scene the following day. Each member of the task force returned to the normal 12-hour rotation until the fire was finally contained on Thursday, Sept. 17, which is when Pittis and Herring made their return home.