PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon Air National Guard is sending 125 members to aid in fire emergency response efforts – 75 from the 142nd Wing at Portland ANG Base and 50 from Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base in Klamath Falls.
These Oregon Air Guard members are deploying in support of OPLAN (Operation Plan) Smokey, assisting the Oregon Military Department and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The past several weeks, the West Coast has been plagued by wildfires and, though these fires are a yearly occurrence, this year’s have been particularly bad.
More than 85 wildfires are raging across California, Oregon and Washington. In Oregon alone, 46 fires have burned nearly double the state’s annual average acreage. As of Sept. 13, there are 35 active fires in Oregon and over 900,000 acres of land burned.
Across the state, the fires have wreaked devastating damage and loss of life. Many people have fled their homes as the fires continue to burn. Since last week, dense smoke has filled the skies over Oregon, causing hazardous air quality.
Master Sgt. Haina Searls, an avionics supervisor for the 142nd Maintenance Group, is one of the Airmen aiding in relief efforts throughout the state. He explains the role volunteers fill in the effort to mitigate these fires.
“We’re checking for hot spots, making sure it’s not going to spark up and cause a spot fire somewhere else,” says Searls. “A lot of times, we might be helping people evacuate out of their homes, making sure they’re out of harm’s way.”
Oregon Air National Guard volunteers may serve their state in several ways: by aiding fire teams, performing search and recovery, or by providing general support to the Joint Operations Center in Salem.
The volunteers will serve a minimum of 14 days but could be activated for up to 30 days if needed.
“We have the federal mission. This is the other part of what it means to be in the Guard, that’s to support our state and local communities,” says Lt. Col. Anthony Victoria, 142nd Wing Emergency Operations Center director.
The Guard is really about community members serving the community. These Guardsmen live and serve throughout the state of Oregon. Many of them have been negatively impacted by these fires.
“Their professionalism, the focus that they put on it, and their performance have been completely outstanding across the board,” says Victoria. “It just demonstrates that we’re there for our communities when they need us.”