MARION COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - One of the most critical aspects in fighting ongoing Oregon wildfires is communication, including the ability to coordinate with field crews and keep everyone safe. But as flames tore through the Santiam Canyon last week, it burned through a fire camp and took out a lot of that communication equipment.

Out on a fire, it’s not as easy as just picking up a cell phone to coordinate with all of the firefighters, and when flames take out cell towers, firefighters need a system they can trust, as wildfires are usually in remote areas where reception is spotty.

That’s why there is a communications unit in a safe spot transmitting a signal and talking to firefighters through repeaters stationed out in the field. But when the Beachie Creek Fire exploded this time last week, it burned through a fire camp in Gates and took out that key equipment.

Firefighters had to set up new repeaters, and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s communication team had to step up in a way they never have before. Usually, they’re just in charge of talking to all of the structural firefighters who’ve been called in to help. But now, for the first time, they’re in charge of communication for the entire wildfire, telling firefighters where to go and how the fire is behaving, among other things, including weather conditions, safety concerns, and helping anyone who is hurt.

“If there’s no communication between the firefighters out on the fire ground, they’re required to pull back and no longer be actively fighting fire, so by providing them communication, it allows them to do their job,” Mark Kroll, communication technician with the fire marshal’s office, said.

The communications trailer unit that the fire marshal’s office is using is brand new and has improved mapping capabilities, giving them a better line of sight out to the fire.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


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