Fires raging across the west coast have left roughly four million acres burned, including one million in Oregon alone. Dry and windy weather conditions sparked blazes across that state, leading to millions of displaced residents and prompting firefighters from around the country to respond.
Four Bellevue firefighters answered the call.
Nick Schell, Scott Beaver—son of Bellevue Fire Chief Greg Beaver—Marco Beyeler and Osvaldo Arenas of the Bellevue Fire Department were contacted on Friday, Sept. 11, to help fight the Echo Mountain Complex Fire, which began near Lincoln City, Ore., on Sept. 7. The Bellevue team was called to provide structure protection four miles east of the city. They arrived on Sept. 12 to find many buildings already burned. Instead of fighting flames, the crew began the arduous process of assessing the damage done.
Calling themselves the “last line of defense,” the Bellevue crew worked alongside hot shots to scour the rubble, look for dead bodies (they found none) and consider whether or not the structure was completely lost, or salvageable.
For Schell, the engine boss who has been a firefighter for about five years, these types of blazes have become commonplace. The Bellevue Fire Department has a long history of sending crews across the west to respond to a growing number of wildland and city fires in the region.
“It’s weird at first, then things get more comfortable,” Schell said of merging his crew with the hundreds of other crews fighting the same blaze.
As of Thursday, the Echo Mountain Complex Fire covered 2,552 acres and was 45 percent contained, with 575 personnel on scene. Its cause remains under investigation.
The Bellevue crew was on their way home on Thursday morning, roughly 80 miles outside of Boise, and were hoping to get called out again before reaching their station in Bellevue. As wildland firefighters, they are authorized to work up to 14 days straight, which means more money for individual firefighters and more money for the department.
When not responding to a call, Schell works as a technician for Silver Creek Ford in Hailey. Beaver works for Woodside Motorsports. Beyeler works for Apollo Construction. Arenas works for Franklin Building Supply; he also has a 4-year-old and a 6-month-old at home.
Between shifts in Oregon, Schell and his crew came off the front lines, showered and prepared for getting as much sleep as they could before beginning the next day’s tasks. Meanwhile, other crews created a line of containment around the blaze. According to Schell, the state of Oregon requested a total of five structure firetrucks, but only received three—including the one from Bellevue—demonstrating the strain on resources in the region as blazes continue in California, Oregon and Washington.
Fires across the state have killed at least eight people and destroyed 1,616 homes, according to The Oregonian newspaper.