Firefighters back from Canyon Creek Complex: “It was just heartb - KPTV - FOX 12

Firefighters back from Canyon Creek Complex: “It was just heartbreaking”

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Fourteen firefighters from a Clackamas County Task Force just returned home Thursday, after spending six days deployed at the Canyon Creek Complex near John Day.

The fire was more than 60,000 acres, threatening more than 700 structures and only 13 percent contained as of Friday night.

It also turned 30 homes to ash.

“The absolute destruction – there’d be a few houses and then there’d be one standing, and then there’d be a few more burned, and no rhyme or reason as to why some were saved and some weren’t,” said task force leader Todd Gary of Canby Fire.

Firefighting task forces can be called in any time local crews are overwhelmed and life or property is on the line, provided the Governor signs off on the extra help.

Where they come from and the resources they bring varies depending on the needs of each fire.

Last Friday afternoon, Gary and 13 others in his task force – four from Gladstone Fire, two from Sandy Fire, two from Molalla Fire, two from Portland Fire, three from Clackamas Fire – got the call to pack up and go.

On the ground near John Day, they were given a specific division of the fire and one task: protecting 17 homes there.

“I can proudly say where we were at, we didn’t lose any more homes,” he added.

But it wasn’t easy.

The winds were erratic, pushing the flames in every direction and sending spot fires half a mile ahead.  The 12-hour shifts the task force members prepared for often turned out to be much longer.

“My guys worked hard.  Every one of them worked hard,” Gary said.  “The fire seemed to blow up in the afternoon.  The wind would start blowing, and the fire would blow up, so we’d end up on the line.”

They were still on the ground and five days into a very difficult deployment Wednesday, when news began to spread through fire camp that three firefighters had been killed in Washington.

“It just kind of hit home with everybody,” said task force member Kirk Stempel of Gladstone Fire.  “We have a dangerous job to do and when you see three of your brothers pass away, it really does an emotional craziness to you.”

Stempel now wears a mourning band over his badge in their honor.

But the fire season is far from over, and the Canyon Creek Complex they just left is still burning out of control.

“My heart just goes out to the people of John Day,” Stempel added.  “It’s very tragic.  Unfortunately the season is still early and we’re going to see more of this – hopefully not – but prayers need to be out there with them.”

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