ARES teams on alert as West Coast wildfires threaten
West Coast Amateur Radio Emergency Service teams were on alert at week’s end to provide emergency communication as the Florence and Sour Biscuit wildfires in southwestern Oregon threatened to merge, creating a “mega fire.” American Radio Relay League Oregon Section Manager Marshall Johnson, KK7CW, said local hams were helping to curb rumors regarding evacuations and supporting local public service agencies.
“ARES and served agencies are still assessing the resources necessary to keep homes from being destroyed and residents as safe as possible,” he told ARRL. “Pray for us.”
Johnson says resources in Oregon to fight more than a dozen fires are being stretched to the limit. “Municipal and Regional fire departments are sending mutual aid personnel to help fight the blazes,” he said. According to Johnson, nearly one-half million acres have burned so far this summer, although Aug. 1 was the first official day of fire season in Oregon.
Meanwhile, ARRL San Francisco Section Manager Len Gwinn, WA6KLK, said ARES teams from Crescent City and Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties in California were standing by to assist. Gwinn also was in contact with Sacramento Valley Section Emergency Coordinator Dave Thorne, K6SOJ, to arrange ARES mutual aid between the two ARRL sections.
“Everyone is still on standby to evacuate,” Gwinn said Aug. 1, adding that shelters in Crescent City, Calif., and Grants Pass, Ore., were quiet for the moment. Residents in the Illinois Valley in Oregon’s Josephine County have been warned to be ready to voluntarily evacuate on 30 minutes notice. Officials also have been encouraging voluntary relocations of the elderly, families with children and of those having medical conditions or needing special assistance.
At risk are the communities of Selma and Cave Junction and the surrounding areas. The Florence Fire has covered more than 145,000 acres, while the Sour Biscuit fire has claimed more than 35,000 acres. The two fires were within a couple of miles of each other on July 31 and only about 5 percent contained. Firefighters have been attempting to bulldoze a firebreak.
While ARES operation typically has been on VHF, Gwinn said the Crescent City and Grants Pass centers planned to test 40 and 80-meter midday conditions. “This is because if the linked repeaters between the cities go down for any reason, they will have to resort to HF to get over the hill between the cities,” Gwinn explained. He said Family Radio Service radios also were being used in areas near the centers also.
“These are major fires, and there is at least two and a half months of fire season remaining,” outgoing ARRL Sacramento Valley SM Jerry Boyd, K6BZ, said in a message this week to members in his section. “Let’s keep our preparedness high.”
(Aug. 2 American Radio Relay League Letter)