S. Oregon agencies send help

The deadly wind-driven flames may be more than 800 miles away in Southern California, but officials in Jackson and Josephine counties are closely monitoring the fiery events.

Local land management agencies already have deployed nearly a dozen firefighting specialists and 10 wildfire engines to fight fires spread by gusting Santa Ana winds. The local American Red Cross chapter also has sent emergency equipment and personnel.

More fire equipment and firefighters are ready should they be required to respond to the fires, which have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in San Diego County alone and torched nearly a quarter of a million acres.

"We have a lot of folks who have made themselves available, from dozer bosses to task force leaders, if they are needed," said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

"And we have a lot of contract engines we can push out the door," he added. "We also have crews ready to go."

All told, 25 wildfire engines with roughly five people each have been sent from Oregon and Washington, according to Tom Knappenberger, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service's Region 6. About 40 specialists also have been dispatched by the various agencies that battle wildfires, he said.

Locally, the BLM's Medford District and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have deployed nine overhead personnel with expertise in varying firefighting fields as well as 10 fire engines, Whittington said. Those engines include five from the agencies and five contract engines, he added.

Over at the Oregon Department of Forestry's Central Point office, a "dozer boss" has been deployed, said spokesman Brian Ballou.

"It's entirely plausible we may be sending more people before the week is out," Ballou said, noting there is no rain on the immediate horizon predicted for Southern California.

The National Park Service has dispatched a fire engine from Crater Lake National Park.

October rains have snuffed out the fire season in Jackson and Josephine counties, freeing up firefighting equipment and personnel. However, ground-pounding firefighting crews from the two counties have yet to be deployed to Southern California.

Because of the huge amount of urban-rural interface in Southern California, wildfire engine crews are more appropriate, Whittington explained.

"(Ground) crews aren't mobile enough," he said. "When the wind stops, the vegetation doesn't take a lot of mop-up for crews. But there will be a lot of dozer work."

Unfortunately, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds whipping in from the southeast can typically be a problem into late November or early December, he said.

"When the Santa Ana hits, it's really tough to fight fires," he said, noting that wind-driven fires are notoriously dangerous because of the erratic gusts.

Meanwhile, the Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross has deployed two emergency response vehicles and six people to the San Diego area to help fire victims. Chapters in Eugene and Salem also have dispatched aid to the fire-blackened area.

Local residents can help the effort with financial contributions, said Tony Hernandez, director of emergency services for the Southern Oregon chapter.

"If they wish, they can make a financial donation specifically for the victims of the Southern California fires," he said, adding that the entire amount will go to those victims.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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