Philomath Fire and Rescue’s heavy brush engine accompanied three local firefighters to the Priceboro Fire near Harrisburg. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire and Rescue)

A correction was made at 6:56 p.m. Aug. 9, 2023: An earlier version of this article identified a member of the crew deployed to the Priceboro Fire as Lt. Lindsay Taylor. Chancy Ferguson, Paula Anderson and Layne Converse were the three local firefighters deployed.

Philomath Fire and Rescue Chief Chancy Ferguson, Lt. Paula Anderson, firefighter Layne Converse and the department’s heavy brush rig returned from the Priceboro Fire near Harrisburg Sunday morning.

At last word late Tuesday, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported that the 309.5-acre fire had reached 65% containment. The response overall included 175 firefighters with crews from ODF, local fire districts, protective associations, forest landowners and private contractors.

Philomath Fire and Rescue headed to Linn County through the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Immediate Response program.

“They take resources that are as close as possible and deploy them as quick as possible,” Ferguson said. “So on a typical conflagration, we have three to four hours to respond, or this is just an immediate need or something close by that they need extra hands to get out the door as quick as possible and go support the incident.”

Ferguson was put in charge of the five-apparatus Benton County task force.

“The best way to describe a task force is we take a fire station with us and we kind of share the resources countywide,” Ferguson said. “On this event, we took the heavy brush and myself as the incident commander, the head of the team, and Monroe Fire brought a water tender to supply water for the task force and brought a brush rig. Corvallis Fire brought a brush rig and Adair Fire brought a brush rig. It’s kind of a mobile fire station resources-wise so we can pretty much complete any task assigned to us as needed.”

Philomath’s contribution came down to two assignments.

“Once we got there, we went into surveying structures and assessing the risk and supporting the operations that were going on with the other agencies that were already there — those that were closer to the scene,” Ferguson said.

The crew spent the first night on the fire before relocating to Harrisburg Fire and Rescue.

“The next two days, we spent at Harrisburg helping provide coverage for service there and as an added resource if they needed help on the incident as well,” Ferguson said. “At that point, the structural threat had kind of diminished … but they wanted to have a quick reaction force if anything changed, if something jumped a line or they got a strange windy bent or something of that nature.”

The Priceboro Fire near Harrisburg reached 65% containment Tuesday evening. (Photo provided by Oregon Department of Forestry)

Because of the quick response, Philomath Fire and Rescue really didn’t have much time to prepare for an extended stay. Ferguson slept in the back seat of his car both nights, for example.

“We weren’t necessarily prepared as we would’ve liked to have been for a three-day deployment; we were kind of expecting that 12-hour type of deployment where we go there, get stuff done and then other resources from further away come in and back the line,” Ferguson said. “But they didn’t need that to happen, so we made do.”

The Priceboro Fire started around 4 p.m. Friday and residential evacuations were part of the operation. The cause is under investigation, ODF said.

Philomath may not be done helping fight wildfires in the region. Also in Linn County, the Wiley Fire has been burning this week near Sweet Home.

“We could be in the same boat (if called to the Wiley Fire) — it will be an Immediate Response,” Ferguson said. “And actually, we have mutual aid agreements that you could get pulled into without the State Fire Marshal asking.”

Ferguson added that there are a couple of other fires “down on the McKenzie River that are actually looking to be more threatening right now.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.