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

Reimagining education to solve Oregon's student debt and underemployment problems

News
Thursday, November 13, 2014
carsonstudentdept-thumbBY RYAN CARSON | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

How do we skill up our future technology workforce in a smart way to take advantage of these high-paying jobs? The answer shouldn’t focus only on helping people get a bachelor’s degree.


Read more...

Woman of Steel

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Tamara Lundgren tackles the challenges—without getting trampled.


Read more...

Political Clout

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

Businesses spend billions of dollars each year trying to influence political decision makers by piling money into campaigns.


Read more...

Healthcare pullback

News
Thursday, November 20, 2014
112014-boehnercare-thumbBY JASON NORRIS | OB CONTRIBUTOR

Each month for Oregon Business, we assess factors that are shaping current capital market activity—and what they mean to investors. Here we take a look at two major developments regarding possible rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Read more...

Top stories in 2014

The Latest
Thursday, December 18, 2014
10-listthumb

2014 was a year of wild contradictions, fast-paced growth and unexpected revelations.


Read more...

Corner Office: Steve Tatone

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.


Read more...

Shuffling the Deck

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JON BELL

Oregon tribes still bet on casinos.


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