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West Fork Complex fires 94,476 acres; Inside the command center

Staff Writer

SUN photo/Mike Pierce Sgt. Nathan Faith, Capt. Tim Bouma and Sgt. Cassandra Quinones of the Colorado Army National Guard’s 117th Space Support Battalion work at the West Fork Fire Complex West Division headquarters. The National Guard members were present for a week, helping fire managers through the use of satellite imagery — the first time the unit has been deployed in such a capacity.

SUN photo/Mike Pierce
Sgt. Nathan Faith, Capt. Tim Bouma and Sgt. Cassandra Quinones of the Colorado Army National Guard’s 117th Space Support Battalion work at the West Fork Fire Complex West Division headquarters. The National Guard members were present for a week, helping fire managers through the use of satellite imagery — the first time the unit has been deployed in such a capacity.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to banish a blaze.

When a special team is called in to manage a large fire incident, such as the Phoenix NIMO (National Incident Management Organization) team currently stationed in Pagosa Springs and the Rocky Mountain Type 1 team stationed on the east side of the West Fork Fire Complex, it brings with it a small city, of sorts.

Contained within an incident command center are several departments, ranging from the incident commander and fire behavior specialists, to public information, to logistical units that keep track of time, financing, ordering and more.

It also includes an educational component.

SUN photo/Mike Pierce Capt. Dale Mosher and firefighter Stan Kimura of the Honolulu Fire Department examine a sandbox model of the fire complex. Six members of the Honolulu Fire Department shadowed West Fork Fire Complex personnel for a week as part of training to become a Type 3 incident team.

SUN photo/Mike Pierce
Capt. Dale Mosher and firefighter Stan Kimura of the Honolulu Fire Department examine a sandbox model of the fire complex. Six members of the Honolulu Fire Department shadowed West Fork Fire Complex personnel for a week as part of training to become a Type 3 incident team.

For a week, the NIMO team based at Nick’s Hangar in Pagosa Springs was a little larger than normal and included members of the Honolulu Fire Department and members of the Colorado Army National Guard’s 117th Space Support Battalion.

And while the two groups were there for very different purposes, both left with a little more knowledge than they had upon their
arrivals.

The HFD was there in hopes of gaining knowledge to help them form a Type 3 incident management team for Honolulu.

Shadowing NIMO team members were HFD members Battalion Chief James (Kimo) Perkins, Capt. John Bowers, Capt. Ken Lee, Capt. Howard Naone, Capt. Dale Mosher and Firefighter 3 Stan Kimura.

Mosher said the Honolulu Fire Department is training to build a Type 3 all-risk management team on the island, and has been working to shadow management teams on incidents for several years.

The West Fork Fire Complex, Mosher said, is the group’s fourth deployment by members of the team, which consists of 80 to 100 people with position-specific training. Other deployments have been with private contractors at fires and Hurricane Sandy.

And though the group is still in its infancy, it has worked planned events such as the NFL’s Pro-Bowl.

“For us, it’s excellent training to come in here,” Mosher said of the group’s mainland trainings.

Honolulu has the potential for grass fires in deep grass and steep terrain, Mosher said, as well as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and terrorism.

Mosher said he hopes members of the team will continue to deploy to large mainland events with multi-operation periods as continued training.

The Space Battalion, on the other hand, was deploying technology never before used in fighting fires — technology normally used to support troops overseas.

According to Capt. Tim Bouma, who deployed with Sgts. Nathan Faith (satellite communication engineer) and Cassandra Quinones (geospacial engineer), and civilian IT specialist Josh Fisketjon, the West Fork Fire Complex was the test run for using the satellite technology to help managers identify the more critical spots in fires.

The Space Battalion is based in Colorado Springs.

And while this was the first time the technology has been leveraged to fight fires, Bouma said he has been, “more than impressed with” the outcome.

Traditionally, Bouma said, the technology is used to support troops on the ground in combat zones and is used to help plan missions.

“There’s still a lot more for us to learn,” Bouma said about using the technology to fight fires, adding that he hoped the technology would continue to be employed for the purpose.

The Pagosa experience should also help the trio during their upcoming two weeks of active training, which Bouma said is set to cover supporting wildfire events.

The fires

And while those visiting from the Space Battalion and HFD are gone, the fires that make up the West Fork Fire Complex continue.

As of Tuesday morning, the complex fires were reported at a total 94,476 acres and 7 percent containment — an increase in size of more than 15,000 acres since Tuesday, June 25.

But, over the last week, conditions driving the fires have turned more favorable, causing the growth of the fires to slow and allowing most evacuated residents to return home.

In addition, U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and Colo. 149 between Creede and South Fork are again open.

The danger continues, though, with structure protection still taking place and increasing wind and thunderstorms expected to intensify fire behavior.

Too, lightning storms have sparked other fires in the area, with crews responding to several smoke reports.

Many of those fires, according to the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch, have been contained or controlled to single-tree fires of less than one-tenth of an acre.

In Pagosa Country over the last several days:

• The Fawn Gulch Fire on the San Juan National Forest Pagosa Ranger District was controlled.

• Firefighters responded to reports of smoke near Alberta Peak on the San Juan National Forest Pagosa Ranger District south of Wolf Creek Ski Area.

• Firefighters tended to the Cottonwood Fire 10 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs on the San Juan National Forest.

• Firefighters responded to two new reports of lightning strikes on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

• Firefighters contained the Junction Fire on private land north of Pagosa Junction.

To report a fire on public lands, contact the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center at 385-1324 or call 911.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on July 3, 2013.
  • ajpagosa

    It takes a village to raise a child? Really? Maybe if both parents are power hungry sociopaths like the Clintons. I don’t know why you’d tarnish the good work of local firefighters with reference to the title of Hillary’s famously flawed book.