Four Grand Forks firefighters departed on a fire engine at 6 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14, to help combat the fires devastating Oregon. They will spend a total of 18 days away from Grand Forks: 14 days in Oregon and four days traveling, though Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Lorenz said that time could potentially be extended.
The Grand Forks firefighters will meet with fire engines staffed by Fargo and Williston firefighters, and together the North Dakota task force will travel to Salem, Oregon -- though that destination, which has already been changed once, could change again.
"They're in desperate need," Lorenz said.
While the North Dakota Forest Service sends wildland firefighters to western states to combat wildfires every year, Lorenz said this is the first time in his 30-year career that he's seen city firefighters called to deliver mutual aid to another state.
For those who haven't experienced the West Coast's fire season, the devastation is difficult to comprehend, and this year, "the sheer scope and number of fires that are burning out there are beyond what the state has ever experienced," Lorenz said.
"They've depleted all their resources," he said. "A lot of communities actually lost their fire stations, or have equipment that got burnt up. A lot of firefighters have lost their homes, I understand. Just because of the duration and the intensity and how much there is, they need assistance."
The Oregon State Fire Marshal requested mutual aid late last week through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a nationwide mutual aid agreement. North Dakota is among several states who have mobilized firefighters.
The North Dakota task force will receive its assignment from the Oregon State Fire Marshal upon arriving in Oregon on Wednesday, Sept. 16, but Lorenz said the focus will be combating the structural fires in city and residential areas, rather than the wildfires.
Lorenz said, after he learned the Grand Forks Fire Department would mobilize to assist in fighting the Oregon fires, he asked for volunteers from the department. He estimated about 25 to 27 people volunteered.
The four who were selected were chosen based off experience and availability on their shifts. All Grand Forks fire stations remain fully operational and staffed in their absence.
Lorenz said he contacted city administration prior to committing Grand Forks firefighters to the task force. He said Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and other city administrators were fully on board.
"On our side of the state, we know what disasters are like," Lorenz said. "With flooding through the years, we always appreciated the assistance, and the mayor was very supportive of helping someone in need."