KLAMATH COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - A firefighter on the frontlines of the Bootleg Fire in Klamath County says his crew had to work fast to rescue several people, and to keep themselves safe as well, as flames quickly approached them.
Jon Koenig, a supervisor with the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office, was sent to the fire to protect homes and buildings. Monday morning, he and other firefighters were working on two subdivisions scattered in the forest when things became dangerous as the fire moved rapidly toward them. Firefighters had to first create a safe space for themselves. They found a meadow and started back burning there as a tool to fight the wildfire and create a buffer.
Koenig told FOX 12 that people in the area were at first reluctant to leave their homes, but as the fire became more explosive they had to. Firefighters kept themselves and eight others safe in the meadow. From there, they fought structure fires - able to save seven of the 11 buildings.
As the firefighters were using chainsaw to get out of the area, they came across three people in cars trapped by fallen trees. The firefighters were able to get them out safely as well.
"Had we not been operating up there that day I’m not sure what would have happened to them," Koenig said. "I’ve been a public servant for 25 plus years and every single incident we go to impacts me on an emotional level at some point. We arrive not so much as the rescue, but certainly to come alongside their local organizations, their local fire department, their local emergency managers, their local government, and help them through those very bad days."
Koenig says these are the times when they rely on their extensive training because they have such little time to make quick life-saving decisions.
As of Wednesday evening, the Bootleg Fire has burned about 212,377 acres and is five percent contained. In total, 1,338 personnel are assigned to the fire.