Firefighting business is volatile

| Print |  Email
Articles - October 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011

 

1011_SomethingsBurning
Miller Timber fire crew workers Matteo Gouveia (left), Anselmo Salgado and Alejandro Ayala dig up and douse hot spots while working the edge of the Shadow Lake Fire near the Big Lake Youth Camp on Sept. 6.
Photo by Pete Erickson, courtesy The Bulletin

The wildfire season went from dormant to red hot in a matter of weeks in late summer, when a surge of blazes from Dollar Lake to Hell’s Canyon sparked a full-scale mobilization. Thousands of firefighters responded to protect property and natural resources including the Bull Run Watershed, source of Portland’s drinking water.

The crews performed admirably, but their industry is in deep trouble. A record snow-pack year preceded by early rains last fall made for 11 months of down time after one of the slowest seasons on record in 2010. “Going into September it was a quarter to midnight for a lot of people in our industry,” says Don Pollard, president of GFP Enterprises in Sisters. “A lot of folks who have invested a lot of money are hurting. Our industry association did a poll in August and about half of our members were either getting out of the business or were thinking of getting out.”

That was before lightning strikes sparked raging fires near the Warm Springs Reservation Aug. 26, initiating a complex of fires in the Cascades that put more than 2,000 people to work. Then came a blaze east of Hood River that threatened the Bull Run Watershed. Suddenly, even the most troubled firefighting operations had all the work they could handle.

“There was absolutely no work until the last week of August,” says Rick Dice, president of PatRick Environmental and president of the National Wildfire Suppression Association. “It was tough to hold crews together. Then all of a sudden it hits the fan, and they need everything you’ve got. It would be like having a factory completely shut down end expecting it cranked up within an hour.”

These are not ideal conditions for running a business, especially with lenders clamping down on credit. Industry veterans are lobbying federal and state agencies to set aside more off-season contracts for non-emergency projects to keep companies stable and healthy for when they are needed. It’s an issue of particular significance in Oregon, home to about two thirds of the nation’s private wildfire fighting resources.

About 4,000 contract firefighters work in the industry statewide, and local businesses such as Evergreen Aviation and Columbia Helicopter win contracts fighting fires both in and outside of Oregon. “We need to bring some stability and certainty to the industry,” says Dice. “We’ve been talking to all the agencies about this. It’s a long process but they are listening.”

Ben Jacklet

 

More Articles

5 ways successful people kickstart the day

The Latest
Thursday, April 02, 2015
coffeethumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Are mornings the most productive part of the day?  We ask five successful executives how they get off to a good start.


Read more...

Undersea Power

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes first came up with the idea of an ocean power device 23 years ago, when they were students at Oregon State University. They realized a long-held vision last summer, when their startup, M3 Wave, successfully launched the first ocean power device that works underwater.


Read more...

Downtime with John Helmick

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play: CEO of Gorilla Capital.


Read more...

5 questions about the FLIR FX

The Latest
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
FLIR-FX-IndoorBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The Wilsonville-based company is targeting GoPro enthusiasts with its latest release. Is spy gear poised to go mainstream?


Read more...

No Boundaries

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Floor plans embrace the great wide open.


Read more...

Energy Stream

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Oregon already ranks as the nation’s second largest generator of hydroelectric power. (Washington is No. 1). Now an elegant new installation in Portland is putting an unconventional, sharing economy twist on this age-old water-energy pairing. The new system, launched this winter, uses the flow of water inside city water pipes to spin four turbines that produce electricity for Portland General Electric customers. 


Read more...

The Green Paradox

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY EMILY LIEDEL

Inside the topsy-turvy world of corporate sustainability rankings.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS