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Firefighters hone their wildfire skills

by: Jonathan House, Firefighter Jeff Pronovost tries to blow out his torch during a wildfire exercise Tuesday morning in West Linn. Firefighters practices several ways to fight the fires.

A few small grass fires flared up Tuesday morning in West Linn, but the homeowner who lives in a ranch house on 40 acres wasn't worried - several dozen firefighters were on hand with lots of equipment to fight the fires.

In fact, the firefighters started the fires as part of a training exercise.

The weeklong training gives Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue's 300 career firefighters 'the opportunity to utilize specialized apparatus and tactics to extinguish controlled field fires and establish a water supply in an area without fire hydrants,' said Karen Eubanks, fire district spokeswoman.

'The skills, tactics and equipment employed in battling a wildfire are significantly different than those used in fighting a structure fire. Therefore, it is imperative that emergency responders have an opportunity to practice these skills and familiarize themselves with the limits of their equipment before they're needed in an emergency.'

August usually provides the best conditions for the drill - dry vegetation and hot weather - although it didn't work out that way this year.

The burns were originally supposed to take place on the Clean Water Services site close to the intersection of Hall Boulevard and Durham Road in Tigard, but 'the lack of flammability of the vegetation' there necessitated the move to the back-up site.

'The grass was just too wet - it just didn't burn,' Eubanks said of the Tigard site.

Also on Tuesday, cool temperatures and a layer of clouds didn't provide ideal burning conditions, but firefighters gamely used fuel to burn grass and practiced several techniques to knock down the flames.

Last month, TVF and R kicked off its annual Wildfire Campaign to remind people to use caution and take preventative measures to protect their homes from wildfires.

In the past several weeks, the fire district has responded to several significant wildfires:

n July 14 - A brush fire on Gram Street in Tualatin was hard to access due to heavy vegetation, railroad tracks, ponds, bridges and a lack of roads.

n July 17 - A fire in two vacant buildings on 170th Avenue in Aloha was already spreading to nearby trees and shrubs and threatening neighboring homes when firefighters arrived, and another brush fire occurred on Leahy Road in Multnomah County threatening West Tualatin View School.

n July 20 - A field fire in Sherwood destroyed almost 4 acres and threatened a nearby barn.

n July 29 - A brush fire in West Linn threatened Camassia Nature Park and the West Linn High School football field as firefighters faced rugged terrain, heavy smoke and dense poison oak while battling it; the fire burned about 2 acres and took about 40 minutes to bring under control.

n Aug. 19 - A two-alarm fire near Hunziker and Wall streets in Tigard burned one-half acre of grass; the area was difficult to access, and hose lines had to be stretched across two sets of railroad tracks.