Wildfire Episode Three: Incident Command

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Transcript

After the 15-year-old threw a lit smoke bomb that caused the Eagle Creek Fire to erupt almost immediately during Oregon’s record dry summer of 2017, he and his friends fled downhill toward the trailhead. “Do you realize you’ve started a forest fire?”, demanded a hiker also attempting to escape the flames. “What’re we supposed to do about it now?”, the kids replied, clueless as to the severity of their actions.

In episode three of Wildfire, we examine the incident command structure of wildland firefighting forces, how these response systems work, and what drives these men and women to keep going as they put their life on the line to stop these fires. We talk to a Fire Captain from Eastern Oregon, to one of the commanders from the Eagle Creek Fire itself, and to a wildland firefighter who worked in the early 2000s, the most-deadly era in wildland firefighting. And, of course, we hear from the people of the Columbia River Gorge about the initial days of the Eagle Creek Fire evacuation, when they were trying desperately to save their homes, their town and their lives.

Listen to Wildfire on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Key takeaways:

  • 1:45 – One of the boys in the group pulled a smoke bomb out of his pocket...
  • 4:58 – “I wanted immediate punishment. I was so livid.”
  • 6:32 – “After the kid threw the smoke bomb into Eagle Creek, the following days unraveled into a gradually worsening nightmare.”
  • 8:58 - On the fourth of September, the weather was dry and hot. The wind was gusting, and the fire in Eagle Creek was growing rapidly.
  • 9:39 – “A huge feeling of helplessness. Even with all those firefighters, there was nothing we were going to do to stop it.”
  • 10:10 – “How does all this wildland firefighting work?” A conversation with Kurt Solomon, captain of the City of Bend Fire and Rescue, and Division Supervisor of Northwest Team 8.
  • 15:07 - “They just didn’t realize the severity of the wind in the Gorge.” The citizens of Dodson, Oregon feel the effects of the Eagle Creek Fire
  • 17:24 – “Surely fire could not jump a mile of water…” The fire jumps the Columbia River.
  • 18:47 – “Out of this unimaginable hardship, a spirit of resilience was brewing in Cascade Locks.” The community rallies to feed and support the firefighters
  • 20:59 – “It’s hard to imagine a more harrowing job, outside of military service.” The life of a wildland firefighter
  • 26:53 – “The thing that kills firefighters is not necessarily even the heat… You’re basically inside a tornado, a fire tornado.”
  • 27:55 – “The proverbial cavalry had arrived.” The battle to save The Multnomah Lodge
  • 33:28 – “The bond you create in the face of chaos” How do forest fires build camaraderie among wildfire fighting teams?
  • 36:35 – “I didn’t know anything about PTSD…” The physical and emotional strain experienced by wildland firefighters
  • 38:09 – “In the Columbia River Gorge, a sense of guarded optimism was settling in…”
  • 41:46 – “The fire’s initial, explosive growth had slowed significantly…” Reflecting on the work of the fire professionals
  • 44:05 – Is there a better way to “fight” fires?
  • 44:54 – Back in the Gorge, the firefighters were working hard to use the opportunity afforded them by the calm winds. But the fire was only 7 percent contained.
  • 46:40 – Who was the teenager who started it all? How was he being handled by the legal system during this emotionally-charged time?

Resources:

More about the Wildfire podcast

When a wildfire arrives at our doorstep, it’s a tragedy. This is especially true when these fires are human caused. But fire has always been an immense and immovable part of the natural order, particularly in the forests of the western United States.

Forest fires and the destruction they cause are not black and white phenomenon, and they cannot be understood without looking closely at the issues that swirl and mutate around the subject of wildfire as much as the fires themselves.

In Wildfire, hosts Graham Zimmerman and Jim Aikman explore the natural forest habitats in which wildfires burn, and how humans have historically interacted with forest fires and fire-susceptible terrain. Graham and Jim lead us into wild places impacted by forest fire; into history books; into conversations with scientists, naturalists, firefighters and politicians; and into the story of the destructive 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, a human-caused forest fire that forever changed Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, one of the most unique and beloved scenic areas in the Pacific Northwest.

Guided by the story of the Eagle Creek Fire—and the ordeal of the 150 hikers who were unexpectedly trapped behind its towering flames—Wildfire explores how, over the last 100 years in the United States, we have demonized and sought to suppress wildfire in an effort to preserve natural resources, scenic spaces, and, of course, human civilization.

Connect with the team

You can see more of Graham and Jim's work through their production company, Bedrock Film Works.

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