KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --
Twelve Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing departed Kingsley Field on September 12, 2020, to support firefighting operations in Central Oregon. In the week building up to this activation, wildfires broke out along the U.S. West Coast, displacing more than 40,000 in Oregon alone, with up to 500,000 on “high alert”.
The Kingsley Airmen travelled to an evacuated area near Sisters, Oregon, where one of the largest wildfires has forced hundreds from their homes.
“These are historic wildfires, and our Airmen have stepped up beyond all expectations to support their fellow Oregonians,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William Wilkinson, 173rd FW Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. “These are real citizens leaving their homes and their families to protect their state,” he added.
Volunteer Airmen provide manpower and free up resources to enable firefighters to focus on the largest blazes. This group is tasked with providing traffic support, directing evacuees and deterring individuals from entering dangerous areas.
More than 1,500 square miles of Oregon have burned in 2020, across 807 fires. Fires have mostly been located along the foothills of the central Cascade and Coast mountain ranges
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” said Kate Brown, Oregon Governor, during a press conference. Smoke from the fires blanketed the state, and several towns across Oregon were “substantially destroyed,” she continued.
Multiple members of the 173rd FW have been evacuated, and three Airmen have lost their homes in the blazes. Members of the base worked together to donate and support the Airmen in need.
Additional Airmen are scheduled to leave in support of OPLAN Smokey at a later date, as part of a specially trained group of firefighters destined for close support operations.
Master Sgt. John Anderson, 173rd FW emergency manager, says OPLAN Smokey Guardsmen provide a force of volunteers to tackle fires after wildland firefighters do the majority of the extinguishing. This frees up state resources to shift to the next section of the wildfire, speeding up the containment process and allowing skilled teams to focus on the highest priority areas.
Wilkinson praised the selfless culture of the Kingsley Team, saying, “these Airmen have stepped up in a time of need, and many more will volunteer if the need arises.”