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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Firefighting effort sprouts instant city with mail service, Web page

POMEROY, Wash. – Doug Parker remembers the time when he prepared for a day of fighting forest fires with “a cigarette, a cup of coffee and a doughnut.”Nowadays, every firefighter starts off with a federally mandated breakfast of at least four ounces of sausage or bacon, two fresh eggs, pancakes or toast, coffee, fresh fruit, milk and juice. Trash from breakfast is separated and recycled.

Before leaving for the fire line, crews are given pinpoint weather forecasts from on-site meteorologists and maps created only hours earlier.

“I don’t know how we used to do it,” Parker joked.

But Parker is part of the change. He no longer works on the fire line. His official role is Web manager for the national team assembled to fight the biggest, toughest blazes, like the one that has burned 43,000 acres and nearly 50 cabins near Pomeroy.

Each day he loads the latest fire information onto a Web site, which is viewed by locals worried about their homes, the news media and hundreds of others across the nation. About 8,000 people viewed the site: www.activefires.net.

Parker is part of a massive infrastructure called upon to fight the fires. In less than two days, the team constructed a fully functioning city on a grassy field at the Garfield County fairgrounds, complete with mail service, a police force, laundry crews, garbage pickup and a health-care system.

The commander of the team is Bob Anderson, who spends most of the year as fire chief of Spokane County’s Fire District 9. Professionals from a wide variety of government agencies compete for slots on the so-called Type I management team. Anderson’s team has been called to help on countless fires, not to mention disaster relief efforts in New York City after 9/11, hurricanes in Florida and the shuttle disaster in Texas.

Providing services and safety for about 1,400 firefighters is no easy task. At least 80 portable toilets had to be ordered and need to be pumped regularly. There are more than a dozen portable showers.

Rules require that each firefighter must also be given 5,500 calories of nutritious, tasty food each day, said Vicki Ramming, logistics director. At least two semi-loads of bottled water have been brought to the camp. Another semi-load is full of Gatorade. Keeping it all cool takes 10,000 pounds of ice daily.

The command post is set up inside display buildings at the fairgrounds. A corner of one building is set up to handle the firefighter payroll. Another part of the building deals strictly with interpreting satellite and flight data for maps.

Twice a day, the latest weather, fire and radio frequency information is compiled in a photocopied booklet – known as “The Bible” – and given to all the crew bosses.

Just outside the boundaries of the camp is a small tent selling T-shirts bearing the name of the fire. The T-shirt businesses follow the big fires, said Parker, the Web manager for the team.

“The T-shirt vendors seem to get here before anybody,” he said.

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