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Delay in getting some National Guard members to fires prompts concern

Issue resolved, but Merkley wants to make sure crew chiefs shortage doesn't happen again

BEND,Ore (KTVZ) -- The major wildfires in Oregon have prompted an all hands on deck response. From local fire crews to the Oregon National Guard, efforts to bring the blazes under control have been far-reaching.

But authorities ran into an issue when trying to utilize all of their resources.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday that he estimated there were 375 National Guard members ready for a disaster like this -- three teams of 125.

"We ran into a problem in Oregon where we didn’t have enough crew chiefs for all three teams to deploy," Merkley said.

A National Guard representative told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday that their personnel who are sent to help need fire crew chiefs to work under. 

With the limited availability of crew chiefs, only two of the three groups went out, initially. 

"The whole goal of having them trained in advance was so they could be deployed immediately, so we’ve undoubtedly learned some lessons here about the resources that are needed on the crew chief side, which I never heard about before this year being a problem," Merkley said. 

The senator added that the unprecedented wildfire event is partly to blame.

"Because of the simultaneous fires in Washington state and California -- and actually several other states as well, but those were the biggest ones -- that we faced an issue that we hadn’t faced before," Merkley said. "Normally, you have fires in one place and you can move the crew chiefs and so forth."

The Oregon Department Of Forestry also explained just how unprecedented this fire event has been, causing them to work hard to keep up. Agency spokesman Jim Gersbach spoke with NewsChannel 21 as well on Wednesday.

"We’ve been looking at some of the acreages that we’ve seen, and this is beyond what we would see in an entire year for most seasons," Gersbach said. "About a half-million acres or so might burn in Oregon from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, and we’ve seen more than that in just one 72-hour period"

Gersbach stressed that safety and preparation are vital as well.

"We always had envisioned them (Guard members) going out in a staggered fashion," he said. "And I believe it was over the weekend we had Contingent 1, was 125, and then the second contingent went out, and then the third one has now been deployed.

"So whether there was a day or two in there where they were catching up with resources for them, obviously our goal is to make that sure anyone deployed to the fire has all the equipment they need before they're actually doing the work at the fire," Gersbach added.

Merkley, however, is looking ahead.

"Is it possible that National Guard themselves could be trained on the crew chief level by being deployed on other exercises, other fires?" the senator asked. "I don’t know the answer, but we've got to figure that piece out for this model to work." 

As mentioned, the third National Guard group has been deployed after getting needed resources.

Central Oregon / Fire Alert / Government-politics / News / Top Stories / Wildlife
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Blake Allen

Blake Allen is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.

Comments

5 Comments

  1. Aww, ya just “ran into a problem .”
    Not one person is shocked Murky because all you Dummycrats do is watch cities AND forests burn while calculating political gain. You’re a scourge and a liar right along with witless Kate.

  2. Typical response from Merkley we didn’t have enough chiefs. Had he had any brains he would have told the Feds to put the damn fire out instead of letting it fester for 3 weeks(Beachie fire). When him and Wyden run out and photo op after the terrible event is a disgrace. Why the hell do we the bosses of these guys even pay them for not doing the job they were hired to do.

  3. Of course the Guard could be trained as described.

    The real problem is that Oregon’s politicians have, for so long, ignored the Guard under Brown’s tenure as govenor, they have no idea the capabilites and experience the Guard has.

    None whatsoever. To include never once asking for or attending returning Guard unit debriefings from their multi-years now overseas missions throughout the world.

    Wake up, Merkley et al!

  4. This is pretty par for the course here in Dumbocrat land- Oregon !

    In times of emergency or crisis- websites don’t work (State Unemployment Assistance)- Government leaders look to California or Washington State for guidance (Corona Virus-in March)- Equipment- supplies- materials… all missing or lacking in numbers (Ventilators-National Guard Leadership) !

    Oregon is a complete disaster- and it’s due to incompetence at the state Government level. I told you all early on- Kate Brown broke this- she damaged it- she’s scarred this… and she doesn’t have the resources- either financial or intellectually to fix any of it… you are on your own !

    Now we learn from this and make the necessary changes come next election time- or we don’t ! The state continues it’s downward spiral into the abyss while the Kate Brown’s of our state rub their paws and cackle at our expense.

    It’s really that simple !

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