Crews talk challenges, risks of fighting wildfires

Nikia Hernandez, a Division Group Supervisor on the Terwilliger Fire, arrived on Monday and will spend 14 days battling the blaze along with more than 700 firefighters.

Posted: Sep 4, 2018 6:54 PM
Updated: Sep 4, 2018 7:34 PM

MCKENZIE BRIDGE, Ore. -- Food and sleep are top priorities in a wildland firefighter's daily life at camp, according to the division group supervisor on the Terwilliger Fire.

Nikia Hernandez arrived on scene Monday, and he will spend 14 days battling the blaze along with more than 700 firefighters.

The Terwilliger Fire continues to grow 50 miles east of Springfield near Cougar Reservoir. As of Tuesday, it has burned 9,158 acres and was 29% contained. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Like many firefighters fighting the Terwilliger Fire, he’s pitched his tent at the Tokatee Golf Course in McKenzie Bridge. Part of the property there has been transformed into a command post where firefighters and support staff can get a shower and hot meal.

RELATED: Terwilliger Fire nearly triples in size near Cougar Reservoir

In addition to food and sleep, Hernandez said base camp also gives firefighters a chance to get in touch with loved ones. 

Hernandez said most firefighters start their day by 5 am. After getting briefed by top officials, firefighters head out to the front lines and work as much as 16 hours per day.

Crews work through tough conditions, including steep terrain.

“Most people's packs they are carrying are at least 25 pounds depending how much water they have,” Hernandez said. “Some of those are 35 to 40 pounds if they are carrying a lot of stuff like EMTs or a sawyer who's packing a chainsaw."

Officials make sure firefighters go the front lines with a full stomach. They eat a calorie-dense breakfast and dinner at base camp and pack a lunch with them to eat on the job. While washing their hands before a meal is mandatory, Hernandez said for some firefighters showers are not the top priority.

“They're not a necessity, so it's not uncommon for us to go four, five, 10 [days], sometimes the whole two weeks, without a shower," Hernandez said.

Once a firefighter finishes their 14-day assignment, they're required to have at least two days of rest before they can get back to work.

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