MERLIN, Ore. --
Twenty Oregon Air National Guard Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing left to help fight the Rum Creek Fire burning near the shores of the Rogue River, Aug. 29, 2022. It is part of “OPLAN Smokey”, a program designed to let the state of Oregon call upon the citizen Guardsmen to serve their state and control the destructive effects of local wildfires.
“What folks are doing is manning seven traffic control points throughout Josephine County,” said Lt. Col. Michael Balzotti, the 173rd FW Wing Plans officer on the current deployment. “They are trying to prevent people from entering the Rum Creek fire zone, in particular the areas under evacuation.”
He went on to say that although this request from the state was a surprise—driven by the rapidly growing Rum Creek fire—they were able to quickly muster the required troops and send them to the fire camp in under 48 hours.
“We have 20 Air and 31 Army folks,” said Chief Master Sgt. Collin Grandy, a supervisor of the deployed fire team. “We’ve established first five, then six, and now seven traffic control points the furthest of which is 1.5 hours away.”
These road closures help ensure people don’t inadvertently travel into a dangerous area, as well as curtail unlawful activity such as looting.
The Kingsley Airmen man the check points, continually using shifts to keep them open around-the-clock. At base camp, Grandy explains, they coordinate with the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon Department of Forestry firefighting officials as well as maintain contact with every Airman at each location.
“Some of them are really remote, one-lane forest service roads up in the mountains,” he said.
The fire itself has grown to more than 20-thousand acres and is just over one-third contained according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Current high temperatures in the low triple digits threaten to slow further containment and firefighting crews are clearing fire lines as quickly as possible.
Upon their arrival Grandy said the heat presented an extra layer of challenge as he and the team set up their living arrangements but that it went smoothly none-the-less.
“We had 50 people who didn’t know each other, the mission, or even where we would be staying—and we are operating today without any issues getting the mission done around the clock and with high morale,” he said.