East Fork battalion chief wrangling regional fires
In the first half of July, East Fork Battalion Chief Scott Fraser has wrangled three major wildfires as an incident commander.
Fraser is serving on one of two Sierra Front Interagency teams designed to spell local managers in big fire events.
“We’ve seen so many fires in Truckee Meadows that the firefighters are tired, and there’s so much going on,” he said. “We can help take some of the pressure off. When a fire is taxing local agencies, we have two Sierra Front teams they can call on where we can bring in 20-30 people. That allows local supervisors to go home and take care of their work.”
Fraser’s first big fire of the month was the 41,545-acre Earthstone fire that started July 3 in Reno. A week later he was managing the 747-acre Farad fire on July 10.
The next day the Long Valley fire started, and Fraser moved north to that fire burning just west of Pyramid Lake.
Fraser’s management team took charge of the fire when it was at 20,000 acres on July 12, working 24 hours to try and bring the blaze to heel. A BLM management team was brought in on July 14, according to the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch.
“It was at 33,000 acres when we left it,” he said. “We had it somewhat corralled but not completely.”
As of Monday, Long Valley has grown to 83,733 acres. Nearly 900 firefighters have a line 35 percent of the way around the blaze.
As incident commander, Fraser is a manager working to support firefighters on the front lines.
“It varies depending on the incident,” he said. “For the two days I was on the Long Valley Fire, there were 45 people on just the team running it. We cover everything from running aircraft to logistics and building a plan. It’s not my job to put the fire out. It’s my job to make sure the guys putting the fire out have every tool they need.”
But with fire behavior as aggressive as it’s been, Fraser said he has found himself facing flames.
“Twice now I’ve been literally fighting fire,” he said. “Conditions are really fluid compared to year’s past. I tell people we’re not in the beginning, but we’re not halfway either. I’ve seen 15-foot flames coming off 1-foot cheat grass.”
Fraser said that’s prompted firefighters to doing something they haven’t done for a long time, battling the blazes at night.
“It’s the only time you can catch it,” he said. “I haven’t seen fire behavior like this in 15 years. These fires are extremely resistant to control measures. You can have the big tanker and engines lined up and it still goes right past you.”
On his way back to East Fork from the Long Valley Fire, Fraser connected with Engine 12 fighting the Cold Springs fire in Washoe Valley on July 14.
Fraser has been participating in the Sierra Front incident management team for the last 5-6 years, but this year there was an opportunity to become an incident commander.
He credits the experience he’s received by participating in the Sierra Front team for making him a better fire manager here at home.
“That’s the biggest advantage,” he said. “I’m doing stuff over two weeks that makes it better for me when I’m doing my job here. This is a huge benefit for us here.”
And while the district may have to fill in for him when he’s responding to a large fire, he says East Fork has a deep bench.
“It’s important for the public to understand that we do have professionals with some huge experience working for us,” he said. “There are 6-7 of us on different teams for our capabilities. We’re in demand.”
Fraser is a McQueen High School graduate who first started serving with East Fork as a volunteer in 1994. He has worked for the district full-time sine 2000.
Fraser said there are 20-plus Sierra Front personnel on his team, representing all the fire departments from just above Bishop to almost Susanville.
“I will put my team up against any size team,” he said. “We may not be as big, but we have some incredible talent on the teams.”