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Fire departments from across Washington County answer call to fight wildfire near Sisters

Five fire districts respond to Akwana Butte Fire after state requests assistance

TVF&R - The 2,100-acre Akawana Butte Fire in Central Oregon threatened 900 homes near Sisters. Several fire districts, including five in Washington County, responded to help put out the massive blaze.Firefighters from across Washington County returned home on Friday after several days fighting wildfires in central Oregon.

Firefighters with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Gaston and Forest Grove fire districts spent three days fighting the 2,100-acre Akawana Butte Fire, which threatened homes outside of Sisters.

Capt. Bret Boysen, a 20-year-firefighter with TVF&R, spent three days in Sisters battling blazes along with a dozen other firefighters from Washington County.

Oregon's Conflagration Act allows the state’s fire marshal to mobilize firefighters from all over Oregon to help out in wildfire situations.

“The Jefferson County fire chief called and said this fire was too much for the local fire districts. He’s able to pull resources from all over the state,” Boysen said.

About 900 homes near Sisters were threatened with evacuation. Boysen said that homeowners had prepared for the fire, and had cars and trucks loaded with belongings in case they needed to evacuate.

The Washington County firefighters were joined by firefighters from Linn, Marion and Yamhill counties.

“Most of us have never worked together before, but we convoy over and work side by side with people that we get to know. We have a mission to accomplish, so we jump in and get it done,” Boysen said.

Washington County sent three heavy brush rigs and two large water tenders to Central Oregon to help fight the fire, along with 12 firefighters from across the state.

TVF&R - Two Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue rigs in Sisters earlier this week. Several Washington County fire districts responded to a call to help fight a wildfire in Central Oregon this week.Six of those firefighters, and two of the heavy brush rigs were supplied by TVF&R.

Many hands make light work, Boysen said, even when it involves fighting a massive fire.

“We can go over there and allow the local resources to rest and do their normal 9-1-1 calls and we can take from all departments here, and help them to protect their homes,” Boysen said.

The firefighters volunteer for the wildfire assignments, said Boysen, who has been fighting wildfires with TVF&R for the past 15 years.

“We have extra training and a bag ready to go at a moment’s notice,” he said.

It’s hard work, he said, but rewarding.

“We get to go spend time in another community and help protect their homes and get people out,” he said. “You never know what to expect. You might be camping in a field. You never know what you’ll be doing.”

It’s not unusual for TVF&R firefighters to volunteer for assignments helping out agencies across the state.

Boysen said that the number of requests for help is increasing.

“We used to have a conflagration event every two or three years,” Boysen said. “Now, we have three or four each year. The weather is changing. The climate is changing. It is much more regular for us to get called out.”

Cassanda Ulven, a spokeswoman with TVF&R said that the state’s quick work to call in additional reinforcements helped greatly with the fire’s quick containment.

“When you have a community of homes threatened, that increases the level of risk and urgency,” she said. “We have a pretty good system that works in Oregon. Should we ever experience something like that in our area, that same mobilization of resources would occur to help us out.”

By Geoff Pursinger
Assistant Editor
The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood
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