KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. --
During hot summer months, fires caused primarily by lighting, spread across the state’s forests and grasslands. Hot and dry conditions, combined with significant levels of forest underbrush, create large wildland fires, the largest of which are called conflagrations. Already these fires have dropped the Klamath Basin’s air quality to a hazardous level, the worst in the nation on Friday, Aug. 3. The 173rd Fighter Wing is working to stop these fires from spreading during one of the worst fire season Klamath County and the state of Oregon has experienced in many years.
The 173rd FW is mobilizing assets to extinguish these fires as quickly as possible. The Kingsley Field Fire Department has sent over numerous structural and wildland engines to protect homes and suppress fires, says Howard Owens, the 173rd FW interim fire chief.
They have also responded to multiple wildland fires on Lower Klamath Lake Road, just south of the base, and deployed to the Garner Complex conflagration near Cave Junction, Ore.
The Kingsley Field Fire Department deploys or mobilizes in a different forms. They assist local firefighting efforts under approved mutual-aid agreements, providing in-county assistance when needed. Additionally, they support call-outs for governor-declared wildfires, which are tasked through the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office and then flow through the Klamath County Fire Chief directly to the fire department, explains Owens.
“With Klamath County being rural in nature, geographically separated from major cities, it requires all the support from emergency responders to keep the community safe,” he says. “The responses recently to Lower Klamath Lakes Road, Link River Canyon, and Sprague River fires emphasizes how quickly fire can happen and the value of having the limited responders engage in a matter minutes. Homes saved, natural resources protected, and fire suppressed before they turn from 100 acres to thousands of acres conflagrations.”
Owens says, “The partnerships we have built with fire agencies in the Klamath basin and county allow us to keep small incidents small, and if we need to call on them for any mishap at the 173rd FW, we know we can count on amazing support!”
The 173rd Security Forces Squadron is also helping fight the conflagration by controlling traffic and restricting access to high-hazard areas from general populace that are traveling during the summer months. Many people leaving to visit, vacation, and travel are unaware of the hazards of traveling on roads directly linked to wildfire conflagrations.
Security forces staff deployed under the Oregon National Guard program “OPLAN Smokey” are working on these fires for 12-hour shifts, ensuring that restricted areas remain free from people that are unaware of the danger and could suffer injury.
While not directly fighting the fire, 173rd Security Forces Airmen are performing an extremely important task allowing more responders to directly engage in firefighting efforts, notes Owens.