Forest Grove Fire Chief Michael Kinkade is leading the Washington County task force.

FILE - Firefighting helicopters take water to dump from Hagg Lake to dump on the Scoggins Creek Fire in 2014.Crews battling devastating wildfires in Southern California are getting an assist from fire departments in western Washington County.

Rich Hoover, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office, said personnel and equipment from the Banks Fire District, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the Hillsboro Fire Department, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue have been dispatched to California. Together, they represent one of 15 "strike teams" from Oregon that are responding to the fires now threatening Los Angeles and other populated areas in Oregon's southerly neighbor.

"They're coming from all over, and anybody that has resources and can afford to let them go, they have responded," Hoover said.

Michael Kinkade.The Washington County strike team is led by Chief Michael Kinkade, who serves as fire chief for Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the Cornelius Fire Department and the Gaston Rural Fire District. Those three partnered agencies have combined to send two fire rigs and seven people to California, according to spokesman Dave Nemeyer.

"We're glad to do it," Nemeyer said, adding, "We want to support our neighbors when they need help. … Someday, we're going to need that help too."

The experience that firefighters from a part of the country like northwestern Oregon get from battling wildfires of the sort now raging across Southern California is "invaluable," Nemeyer said. They are getting the chance to respond to a fire of a scale rarely seen in their home districts and work with heavy equipment like large air tankers, which dump water or fire retardant to slow the growth of major blazes.

COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF THE STATE FIRE MARSHAL - A map shows where wildfires are burning out of control in Southern California as of Thursday, Dec. 7.The Hillsboro Fire Department has sent a lieutenant and two firefighters to California, along with a brush rig, as part of the task force. They will be able to lend some expertise, department spokesman Bruce Montgomery indicated.

"They have been deployed before in wildlands, so this is not new to them," Montgomery said.

It's not often that Oregon fire agencies are called upon to respond to fires in California, according to Nemeyer. This is the first year in the 20 years he has worked for Forest Grove Fire & Rescue that his department has deployed there, he said — although it's not the first time this year, as Montgomery and Nemeyer both noted their agencies also responded to fires elsewhere in the state back in October.

"It's been absolutely terrific," said Hoover of the response across the state to this year's wildfires in California. "We continue to be impressed with the willingness and the rapidness of the ability to deploy. Our Oregon departments just feel like (the) cream of the crop as far as that goes, because they're ready to jump in at a moment's notice."

Deployments can last as long as two weeks, Montgomery said.

Nemeyer said Kinkade and the rest of the group from Forest Grove, Cornelius and Gaston departed late Tuesday night, Dec. 5.

According to Banks Fire District 13 Public Information Officer Mitch Ward, Banks firefighters Chris Lanter, Jake Wren and Katie Allie also deployed Tuesday night and will be gone for an "indefinite" period. Banks also sent down a brush rig.

Stephanie O'Neill, a National Public Radio reporter covering the California wildfires, posted photos on Twitter of Kinkade and other fire personnel from Washington County arriving to fight the Thomas Fire in Ojai, Calif., Thursday afternoon, Dec. 7.

Both the state and the agencies that Oregon units are supporting will reimburse the departments and districts that deploy to California, Nemeyer added.

"It's not like we're subsidizing an agency," he said. "We're not taking Forest Grove tax money and just dumping it into California, because we do get the money back."

It's a matter of give-and-take for western Washington County fire agencies. During the Scoggins Creek Fire in 2014, Nemeyer said, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue crews were relieved by crews from the Eugene area, which came up to assist with the 211-acre blaze.

Smoke from the Scoggins Creek Fire was visible from as far away as Clackamas County. But that wildfire — a big one, by local standards — is dwarfed by the fires now burning out of control across more than 100,000 acres in Southern California.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a Tweet from Ojai, Calif., showing the arrival of Washington County fire personnel as well as information about the resources Banks Fire District 13 sent to California.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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