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Firefighters catch ride with rafters through Rum Creek Fire area

Firefighters coast through the Rogue River in late August along with guides from the Northwest Rafting Company and Arrowhead River Adventures in Josephine County, Ore.
Northwest Rafting Company
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Firefighters coast through the Rogue River in late August along with guides from the Northwest Rafting Company and Arrowhead River Adventures in Josephine County, Ore.

Mountainous and rough terrain can make battling wildfires in the Pacific Northwest even more challenging. Firefighters working the Rum Creek Fire in Josephine County got some respite last week by catching a ride with river rafters.

“The firefighters were so happy to see the guides, and the firefighters really enjoyed the rafting,” said Zack Collier, owner of Northwest Rafting Company. “One of them said, ‘This is way better than riding in a helicopter.’”

Before the trip, Collier and his guides were in low spirits because the wildfire had canceled their days-long trips along the Wild & Scenic Rogue River in late August. A family had flown in from New Jersey to raft that weekend, and Collier had purchased meals and supplies ahead of time. He had to cancel that and another trip.

He had more of a heads up for that second trip cancellation, but he said his employees were still disappointed, as were the families who booked the trips.

Then, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management called and asked if they could pay him to move firefighters downstream.

“The guides were super thankful of the firefighters and what they were doing, and the firefighters were super grateful that the guides were there to move them downstream,” Collier said.

Collier’s company is planning to help move more firefighters through the area in the coming days, as they continue to battle the fire threatening the nearby communities of Galice and Merlin.

The Rogue River is back open and people can again book trips, Collier said. Sometimes it’s smoky, and sometimes the skies are completely clear; it really just depends which way the wind is blowing. Either way, there are interesting landscapes to see.

“Some people don’t wanna be around fire, and that’s fine,” Collier said. “But some people really like going during this time because they enjoy seeing what Mother Nature does.”

He added that he would never take customers through an area where a wildfire would put them in danger, but if that were to happen, Collier said they “have the ability to move downstream really fast.”

Around 2,000 people are working the Rum Creek Fire, and projections on the efforts improved over the Labor Day weekend as weather in Southern Oregon cooled.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.