Holiday Farm Fire Crews Push On Towards Containment

Sep 17, 2020

The Holiday Farm Fire is now 10% contained, and has consumed over 170,000 acres. It’s hoped that an incoming weather front will give fire crews some help, though it could pose its own risks.  KLCC's Rachael McDonald and reporter Brian Bull discuss the latest on the fire. 

Firefighters on the western perimeter of the Holiday Farm Fire, September 17, 2020.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

McDonald: KLCC’s Brian Bull was one of several reporters who visited the incident site, on the western side called Destination Foxtrot. He joins us now.  Hello, Brian.

Bull: Hi, Rachael.

Charred landscape following the Holiday Farm Fire outside Eugene-Springfield.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

McDonald: You look a little grimy, no offense.

Bull:  None taken.  Part of the experience today was to don helmets, safety gear, boots, and fire resistant clothing. We spent our day visiting a couple spots outside Springfield, and we trudged through a lot of soot, and breathed in a lot of smoke.

McDonald:  So what’s the latest on the Holiday Farm Fire?

Bull: So it’s hoped that this storm coming in late today will bring rain and cool winds, that’ll dampen the fire and chill conditions a bit.  Here’s Marcus Kauffman, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry.  He talked about control measures fire crews are putting in place, to keep the blaze from spreading.

A fire set by a crew member with a drip torch is intended to deprive the Holiday Farm Fire of slash should it approach the perimeter.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Marcus Kauffman: “The weather that’s coming will certainly be a test to see how well those control features hold, and that’s part of what we’re doing today, is really to make sure that hold we have in place, and be prepared if the fire stands up and makes some runs on us.”

McDonald: So what are the challenges that fire crews are facing, Brian?

Bull: The weather could bring harsh rain, lightning, hail, and winds that could cause power outages, slog down crews and machinery, and in the case of those winds, stoke up flames that could feed the fire. Much of the terrain is still very dry, so fingers are crossed that nothing worsens with this weather pattern.

McDonald:  You observed some firefighters actually causing fires, Brian.  To the layman, that seems counterintuitive, but there is a strategy, isnt’ there?

Firefighter Ramiro Mendoza uses a drip torch at the Holiday Farm Fire incident site.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Bull:  Correct, Rachael.  One firefighter, Ramiro Mendoza, was walking a few yards down the hill from the fire crews we observed at Destination Foxtrot. He carried a device called a drip torch, which uses a mix of volatile fuel to cause a line of fire.  He explained:

Ramiro Mendoza: “My operation was to remove the fuels from here, because if we don’t burn them now, later on cause problem.” (BULL: Removes the fuels) “Remove the fuels, you see we don’t burn any trees, thus, the main…remove the fuel, cause problem later on.”

Bull:  So in other words, it’s robbing the Holiday Farm Fire of fuel ahead of time, in a controlled setting with fire crews at the ready. With nothing fresh to consume - in theory at least - the fire is thwarted.

McDonald:  And there are 812 personnel fighting the fire currently.  How are they holding up?

Bull: The crew we saw were in pretty good spirits.  Besides the usual concerns over wildfire season, this year’s crews are coping with the pandemic as well.  One firefighter I talked to, Chris Uniack, touched on that with me today.

Firefighter Chris Uniack on how controlled burning of vegetation deprives the Holiday Farm Fire of fuel.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Chris Uniack: “We do everything we can to mitigate COVID-19, and we try to stay healthy by drinking plenty of water, wearing our masks when we need to, taking temperatures, going through our checklist… (BULL: And to your knowledge, has everyone stayed healthy?) “Yes, all of our crew’s healthy and they’re doing good.”

McDonald: That’s good to hear, Brian.  And I understand there’s even a lighthearted morale booster that the fire crews are sharing.

Bull:  Yes!  A young child has sent a token of appreciation to firefighters, and it’s traveled from one regional fire to the next.  Here’s Marcus Kauffman of the ODF again, explaining how Baby Yoda of all people, has ended up at the Holiday Farm Fire:

Matt Grimes (left) and Marcus Kauffman (right) with the Baby Yoda a young child sent fire crews to show his love and support.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Marcus Kauffman: “So this is a thank you note from Carver, age 5, he says: ‘Thank you firefighters, here’s a friend for you in case you get lonely. Love, Carver.’ And the note travels with Baby Yoda, and it goes from fire to fire.  So we just pass it around, y’know…Baby Yoda’s the source of light and force in the world.” (chuckles)

Bull: So these firefighters are tough and rugged, but they’ve a soft side too.  Lots of smiles as Baby Yoda got passed from crew member to crew member.

McDonald:  That’s very sweet, I’m sure many people across the area appreciate the time, sweat, and energy the firefighters are putting into controlling the Holiday Farm Fire and other incidents.

Bull: Indeed.  Outside Thurston Middle School, there are lots of paintings and drawings thanking them. Hopefully they’ll gain more support through cooler, damper weather as the season progresses. Right now firefighters are just hoping local residents stay at the ready should evacuations be necessary.  Blue River saw significant destruction last week, one resident says there’s practically nothing left. And there’s been one official fatality in Vida.  Fire officials want to prevent any further deaths, so they urge people to keep alert and ready to go should the need arise.

Thank you posters and signs adorn the fence outside Thurston Middle School, in Springfield.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

McDonald:  Yes.  Thank you for your time, Brian. 

Bull:  Thank you, Rachael.

McDonald: KLCC’s Brian Bull, back from the western edge of the Holiday Farm Fire burning outside Eugene-Springfield. Stay tuned for updates on this fire and others, on KLCC and KLCC.org.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.