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Crews take on Bedrock Fire from the ground and from the sky

At an area overlooking an actively burning part of the Bedrock Fire, helicopters make bucket drops as tall pillars of smoke billow over the tree lines.

 Man in firefighting fatigues and hardhat.
Brian Bull
Matt Caldwell, Supervisor for Y ("Yankee") Division, at the Bedrock Fire in the Willamette National Forest.

Matt Caldwell, the supervisor for Division Y, or “Yankee,” told KLCC it's part of a coordinated, direct attack on the fire, which is burning in a section of the Willamette National Forest east of Eugene.

“Right here behind us, we have an active fire edge, supported by two dozers, putting in fire line, and helicopter with aviation access to knock the flames down," he said. "They’re getting water from the Fall Creek Reservoir.”

Caldwell said the best thing people can do is simply steer clear of the fire and response efforts.

“Just kinda wave at the firefighters, y’know, support them as best you can and try to stay out of their way, they’ve got a job to do,” he said.

The Bedrock Fire was reported July 22. By July 31, it had grown to nearly 10,000 acres.

Despite the fire's rapid growth, incident commander Bill Neckels said the likelihood of evacuations is currently low for communities nearest the blaze.

"I think we’re set up well along western edge to prevent fire spread going into Lowell, but smoke is always a concern for us," he said.

Neckels met with reporters outside of Lowell on Sunday. The area was hazy, but most activities, including traffic passing through the area on Oregon Highway 58, was unaffected by the Bedrock Fire and suppression efforts.

 Man on beach talking to reporters.
Brian Bull
Bill Neckels, Incident Commander for the Bedrock Fire, taking questions from local reporters.

“Obviously looking outside today, smoke is a concern,” said Neckels. “There’s an old fire scar between the fire and Oakridge, but we fully expect smoke will be one of their primary concerns."

Residents in areas most affected by wildfire smoke are advised to stay indoors with air purifiers, and to wear filtration masks like N-95s if they go outside.

Attacking the fire from the air

At a helibase just west of Oakridge, a helicopter touches down on the runway, having just done a bucket drop against the flames. Several other choppers of varying sizes sit at the ready.

Helibase manager George Leite said when he first arrived after the incident was reported, there were three helicopters here. Now, there are eight: “Five heavy helicopters, two mediums and one light,” he said.

The mission determines the size of the copter, and those range from reconnaissance to suppression tactics. Leite said some are in the air for up to five hours, others just two. And like other fire crews, pilots serve two weeks, get a break, then come back for another two weeks.

Leite said it’s amazing to see the aircraft at work, but urged people to keep their distance, especially during the water drops.

“Water weighs 8 pounds a gallon,” explained Leite. “If water comes down on you from a distance, even one gallon, eight pounds, it’s gonna hurt you. So we need people to stay away. View from a distance, that’s the best thing you can do.”

And there’s a temporary flight restriction in effect, so no unauthorized drones are allowed in the Bedrock Fire’s airspace for the foreseeable future.

Helicopters and the Bedrock Fire in Oregon

There are now over 700 personnel committed to fighting the fire.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause since it was first reported on July 22 near the Bedrock Camp Site. The anticipated containment date is currently October 1, and incident command is hopeful the weather will be sufficiently wet and cool to help those efforts.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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