UNION COUNTY — Ten firefighters from Union County are now on the west side of the state helping to put out vicious wildfires. And Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative dispatched a crew to help restore power after wildfires caused mass destruction in Marion County and the surrounding area.
Eight of the firefighters went Wednesday, Sept. 9 — four from the North Powder Rural Fire Department and two each from the La Grande Rural and the Imbler Rural fire departments. They have been fighting blazes in Clackamas County since their arrival, said Craig Kretschmer, chief of the La Grande Rural Fire Department.
“They are trying to help people get back in their homes,” Kretschmer said.
The La Grande Fire Department sent two firefighters to the Eugene area Sunday evening. The 10 local firefighters are part of a task force that includes firefighters from Umatilla County.
All 10 of the Union County firefighters went with vehicles from their departments. The La Grande Fire Department sent a Type 6 engine, a small engine for fighting wildfires; the North Powder Fire Department sent two Type 6 engines; the La Grande Rural Fire Department sent a Type 6 engine; and the Imbler Rural Department sent a water truck.
The local agencies sent the firefighters and vehicles at the request of the state fire marshal, Kretschmer said.
Kretschmer and Capt. Jerid Ployhar of the La Grande Fire Department both said the state will reimburse their departments for the cost of sending firefighters and vehicles to the wild fires in Western Oregon.
Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative reported it sent a five-man crew and a superintendent Saturday afternoon to help Consumers Power Inc. restore power to its service territory in and around the town of Detroit, in Marion County. As of Monday afternoon, 1,000 CPI customers remained without power in east Marion County, according to the cooperative’s outage map.
Mike Pommarane, OTEC’s director of operations, said in a press release the local power provider takes pride in “our electric cooperative family and (we) are always willing to be able to help fellow members in need.”
The following OTEC employees volunteered to take part in the mission to help restore power: Pat McCluskey, senior district superintendent; Chris Deiter, foreman, John Day; Chris Peppers, journeyman lineman, Baker; Casey Mitchell. journeyman lineman, Baker; Travis Smart, journeyman lineman, La Grande; and Devan Attleberger, journeyman lineman, Burns.
“When we asked for volunteers for this trip, our employees recognized the gravity of the situation and stepped up to help,” Pommarane said.
“That shows how serious our employees took an assignment like this, knowing they were volunteering to be away from their homes, their families for a significant length of time.”
Pommarane said the request for help came through a mutual aid agreement with other Oregon cooperatives through the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative network.
“As families struggle without power and the potential loss of lives and property because of these catastrophic fires, we are glad to be able to be on the ground assisting in any way we can,” he said.
The top priority of each local Oregon cooperative, including OTEC, is service to its own member-owners and the safety of the communities they serve, according to Pommarane. Before committing resources to mutual aid requests, each co-op ensures it has ample crews available for all local needs, including routine maintenance and the cooperative’s own outage mitigation. Since OTEC has available resources and manpower, the press release stated, it was an easy decision to send a crew out to help.
“It’s a perfect example of co-op helping co-op,” Pommarane said.
Pommarane said the crew could be helping repair power lines for up to a week and possibly longer.