KFD battles Bootleg, plus additional fires

Ryan Russell, Keizer Fire District division chief, shares a photo from the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon (submitted).

After enduring one of the worst fire seasons in state history last summer, Keizer Fire District (KFD) has already provided assistance with several intense wildfires that have occurred throughout Oregon.  

“It has been busy. We have needed to fill in for a lot of guys. But we are used to it by now,” said Brian Butler, KFD’s Division Chief of Operations. 

When the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon started on Tuesday, July 6, KFD Division Chief Ryan Russell was selected as the lead of Task Force 16 for Marion County — which took five, three-person fire trucks from Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) Jefferson Fire, Mt. Angel Fire, Silverton Fire, and Idanha-Detroit Fire to the scene near Klamath Falls. 

The destructive Bootleg Fire has garnered national attention over the last two weeks as the nation’s largest wildfire, burning over 500 square miles of forest and grasslands — one of the largest in state history. 

The ongoing drought and recent heatwave has likely played a large role in the intensity of the Bootleg Fire — which had grown so big and hot that is began to affect winds and disrupt the atmosphere. 

“The fire is so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s changing the weather,” said Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman for the state forestry department. “Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

Gov. Kate Brown, in a press conference regarding the wildfires around the state, said that “what is very clear is that no corner of our state is immune to fire. On the West Coast, and here in Oregon, the urgent and dangerous climate crisis has exacerbated conditions on the ground. We’re seeing extensive drought conditions across the state, with 19 counties in drought emergencies. Unprecedented heat waves. And fire seasons that are arriving earlier, coming on faster and lasting for longer.”

Less than a week after the Bootleg Fire started, KFD sent out three firefighters to the Grandview Fire outside of Sisters. The crew spent five days at the Grandview Fire before being demobilized and redeployed to the Bootleg Fire on Friday, July 16. 

After Task Force 16 was demobilized and sent home from the Bootleg Fire on Saturday, July 17, the KFD truck, along with other Marion County fire engines, was then sent to the Elbow Creek Fire in NE Oregon in Wallowa County. It is unknown when they will be sent home. 

Task Force 16 will be ready to deploy again to the Bootleg Fire in the coming days. 

Additionally, KFD had two staff members handle communications for the Bootleg Fire conflagration. 

“We are kind of all over the place and have staff members doing all sorts of different things,” Butler said. “They are working incredibly hard, doing shifts from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.”

While the 2020 fire season was arguably the worst on record in the history of the state, Butler said that this fire season has been even more hectic up to this point. 

“We have been busier that we have ever been before,” Butler said. 

In years past, KFD has often provided assistance to California during wildfire season. This year, however, Butler believes that his staff will likely be too occupied by their responsibilities in state.

“We have to be worried about ourselves first. If we are super busy up here, we aren’t going to be sent out of state,” Butler said. “Fire season started really early this year and I don’t think it is going to slow down anytime soon. We just want everyone to be safe.”

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]