'If things went badly, we were there to protect houses'

LEABURG, Ore. - The Lane County Strike Team got the call Saturday night.

Teams from Eugene-Springfield Fire Department, Coburg Fire, Lane Fire Authority, Rural Lane Fire and Mohawk Valley assembled.

"We left Lane County a little after 7:30 p.m. and arrived in Bend around 1 a.m.," Coburg firefighter Don Harkins said.

The team staged at the Johnson Market Road fire camp in Bend, along with hundreds of other firefighters.

"We were standing by for structural protection," Harkins said. "If things went badly, we were there to protect houses."

The strike team, headed by Coburg Fire Chief Chad Minters, mapped the neighborhoods, distinguishing which homes they could defend easily and others that were more difficult.

"It's a long, hot day going around scouting, determining where the fire is," Harkins said.

He says luckily the ground crews on the front line and water drops from air support did an excellent job at keeping the fire away from any structures.

The Two Bulls Fire started as two separate fires, initially reported at 12:48 Saturday afternoon south of Tumalo Reservoir. Fueled by wind and dry conditions, the fires quickly grew together and pushed south to west of Bend.

Under the state's Conflagration Act, if a fire is threatening life and structures, out-of-area strike teams will be called to assist.

"We were helping out the neighbors, telling them how they can make their houses better prepared to withstand a fire," Harkins said.

The Lane County Strike Team worked 12-hours on, 12-hours off. They split the day with a Linn County crew.

Harkins says the Two Bulls Fire will create a nice-sized fuel break for residents in the area for the future.

Minter says he's been fighting fires for 30 years and is worried about the potential for a large number of fires.

"This is the earliest that I have ever heard of," he says. "Yeah, the first week of June is pretty, crazy early."

In 2002, Minter says the strike team responded to seven fires.

The Lane County crew was released by incident command Monday afternoon.

"When we left the staging area, there were signs that thanked the firefighters," Harkins said. "It's appreciated on our side too."

The crews said the Bend residents were very happy to see fire crews staging in their neighborhood, going door-to-door checking on homes.

"Very positive experience! They were very nice to us," Minter said. "They were always offering us food and water."

After three, long days, the crew returned to the McKenzie Fire Station in Leaburg Monday night.

The team quickly debriefed, sat in the conference room and gathered their thoughts, and then it was back on the road, this time to home.

"Are you happy to see your family? Absolutely!" Harkins said.

"Ready to be home? Ready to be home!"

The crews will enjoy some time off, but then it's back to what they love doing.

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