Sequim firefighters head east to battle wildfires

Okanogan Complex fires are largest in Washington’s history

As reinforcements from around the globe come to help fight Washington’s many wildfires, some of Sequim’s own are on the job, too.

Clallam County Fire District 3 Fire Chief Ben Andrews said 10 firefighters with the department are deployed to various fires around the state.

The latest group of firefighters left in the afternoon on Aug. 20 from Carlsborg and arrived in the early morning on Aug. 21 in Omak near the Okanogan Complex fires.

These five fires, northwest of Omak, have spread to nearly 257,000 acres as of Tuesday morning and are 10 percent contained, fire officials report.

It’s reported to be the biggest fire in Washington’s history.

All volunteers, Lt. Mike McAneny serves as engine boss for Sequim’s Engine 38 with fellow firefighters Becca Yucha, Danielle Hebert and Dave Walker of Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue.

Andrews said this crew will provide structural protection going through areas clearing brush and combustibles near defensible homes and spraying foam on homes.

Sequim’s crew picked up Walker from Port Ludlow as his department wasn’t able to send an engine of its own, Andrews said.

They traveled with Engine 12 from Port Angeles Fire Department and firefighters from that department and Clallam County Fire District 2.

Andrews said Fire District 3 received a call at noon on Aug. 20 to help with the fires alongside firefighter/EMT Pete Sekac, firefighter/paramedic John Hall, firefighter/EMT Lt. Kelly Ziegler from the Port Angeles Fire Department and volunteer firefighter/EMT Katy Babcock from Clallam County Fire District 2.

Kettle complex

Four more local firefighters have been assisting other firefighters and/or battling the Stickpin fire, part of the Kettle Complex fires in northern Ferry County in northeastern Washington, for more than a week.

James Brown has been serving as a medical unit leader with the Washington Incident Management Team 1 while Len Horst serves as engine boss for Fire District 3’s Brush Truck 34 with firefighter Ivan Hueter and volunteer firefighter Austen Delgado. They’ve been digging trenches and burning potential fuel for any fires that may spread.

The Kettle Complex fire consists of three fires including Stickpin at more than 56,000 acres at 15 percent containment while the Stickpin fire makes up 47,544 acres of that. It is about 12 percent contained since lightning started it on Aug. 11, fire officials report.

Andrews said he is planning to help this week at the Kettle Complex fires as an incident commander trainee and likely will return this weekend.

More fires

Firefighter Brian Ouelette serves as a fire line medic at the Marble Valley Fire, 10 miles south of Colville. It stands as of Tuesday at about 85 percent containment of 3,087 acres.

Firefighter Bryan Swanberg, with Incident Management Team 4, serves as a medical unit leader at the Grizzly Bear Complex fire, 20 miles southeast of Dayton. It’s burned about about 59,000 acres since starting on Aug. 13 and is about 5 percent contained in the Umatilla National Forest and land protected by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Andrews said Swanberg has served as a medical unit leader at three fires this summer as part of the incident management team.

Two other team members, Darrell Sharp and John Riley, have served significant time at eastern fires, too.

Sharp supervised more than 700 firefighters near Walla Walla while Riley served at the Paradise fire in the Olympic National Forest about 13 miles north of Quinault. It is just over 2,500 acres and is 40 percent contained as of Tuesday.


Back at home

With so many firefighters serving out of the area, Andrews said they make sure it doesn’t impact regular services in the area.

“We’re using all off-duty firefighters,” Andrews said. “If they are scheduled to work, we bring in someone else to work for them.”

The firefighters who serve as volunteers become employees of the Washington State Patrol, Andrews said, and Fire District 3 is reimbursed by the state for firefighters’ efforts.

More Olympic Peninsula fire crews shipped out this week and/or are planning to help the Eastern Washington effort.

Quilcene Fire & Rescue sent a crew and engine to the Okanogan Complex fires on Tuesday and the Forks Fire Department is gearing up to send an engine as well. East Jefferson Fire Rescue also has two firefighters on a brush engine at the Okanogan Complex.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Washington last Friday, Aug. 21, as wildfires afflict 11 Washington counties and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.