TAVARES — Lake County Fire Rescue Bat. Chief Randy Jones spent his 21 days deployed to Idaho’s wildfires formulating a structure protection plan that would save homes, and his nights trying to find a warm place to sleep.
“We started off with two fires and then we picked up six total by the time we were done with everything,” said Jones. “The first week on Saturday there was wind and the fires grew considerably. There were a couple structures that were lost the day of the wind event.”
Jones was called to the Selway Complex just outside Elk City, Idaho on Aug. 21 to serve as Structure Protection Specialist for the Southern Area Incident Management Red Team with the National Interagency Fire Center. The fires at the complex included the Baldy, Wash and Noble fires, and started in mid-August due to lightning strikes in the Nez Perce National Forest. Currently, the area remains in a state of prolonged drought, and the fires are expected to continue smoldering for weeks, if not months.
“A lot of the fires in that area will burn until the winter snows put them out,” said Jones. “Basically, we were just trying to keep them contained and keep them away from the populated areas. Our strategy ranged from hot shot crews digging hand lines to bulldozers pushing lines. It’s one or the other, or both.”
Jones said some of his biggest challenges were remote access and long drive times from far-off campsite to the fire zones. In fact, he found himself often sleeping in his vehicle through nights that dipped below freezing temperatures.
The Selway Complex fire was at 94,000 acres and 13 percent contained when Jones and his team were released to return home. He was among 160 firefighters brought in to help manage the fire, one of dozens of Midwest fires currently burning. Crews flew from as far as Australia and New Zealand to help in the effort, and worked 12-16 hour days for up to three weeks.
The veteran firefighter, who began his career in Lake County as a volunteer in 1984, has responded to may large-scale disasters including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as a handful of Midwest wildfires in the past.
“We are thankful that Bat. Chief Jones has returned safely to Lake County and proud of the leadership role he assumes when called to action to help manage national disasters and large-scale fires,” said Lake County Public Safety Director Chief John Jolliff.
For more information about Lake County Fire Rescue’s operations, visit www.lakecountyfl.gov/firerescue, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LakeCountyFireRescue, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lakefirePIO.