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Firefighters, businesses benefit from Pole Creek Fire

By Joe Burns
Published On: Sep 18 2012 08:14:57 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21 takes a look at the economic impact for fire companies and crews who were lacking work in this area until a week ago.

SISTERS, Ore. -

Wildfires can have devastating consequences on our forests, but what about the impacts on our economy? For the firefighting companies who were lacking work a week ago, the Pole Creek Fire is helping some of them survive.

Several companies help fire crews with big equipment, like helicopters and bulldozers. We talked Tuesday with some of the companies helping fire crews.

But other businesses help with the basic essentials, like showers and food.

They say the last few years have been slow, but they're now making up for lost business.

"This year, we are on fire No. 9," said John Philipsen. "We have been out 95 days as of today, this year alone."

Philipsen is assistant manager for Bishop Catering, supplying food for those working on big national disasters.

"Hurricanes, tornadoes," said Philipsen. "We can do anything from earthquakes to tsunamis."

Philipsen and his company have traveled all over the country this year just for wildfires.

"There hasn't been very much action in the last few years," Philipsen said. "So this year has been expected. Eventually, it's going to grow -- and eventually it's going to burn."

"This year, it's obviously a busy year," said Steve Ralston. "I think we are No. 7 or 8. Some years, none or very few -- it just depends on the year."

Ralston and his wife run the Mobile Shower Facility contracted through the Forest Service.

"We are all working hard, long hours," Ralston said. "And the firefighters are pretty patient, but the lines haven't been bad. It's okay -- that's our upper limit on what we can do."

Hauling their own water, Ralston's trucks can set up right in the middle of the wilderness.

And while Ralston has some other business interests during the off-season, wildfires are his main source of income during the summer.

The same goes for ground support driver Jim McPherren.

"They hire my pickup and I'm the driver," said McPherren, who takes materials like food out to the fire line when crews need it.

McPherren is retired and lives off his retirement and Social Security, so the extra money from this line of work helps.

"The income from it is helpful," McPherren said. "It helps pay my taxes in the fall. And other than that, I live in the juniper myself, so what I learn here, what I take home, in terms of trimming up the trees."

It's one of the sad realities of fire season: devastation for some leads to financial survival for others.

"A lot of us had to catch up on our bills," Philipsen said. "Catch up on a lot of stuff we have been behind. It had a huge impact this year."

The Pole Creek firefighters are up on the fire line for 16 hours a day, so the fire camp serves an important role.

Firefighters come back to fire camp to eat, shower, get some sleep.

Tents line the Sisters Rodeo grounds where the fire camp is set up.

Fire officials call it a self-contained little city.

The camp is also where supplies are stored for people on the fire. But are there enough facilities for the 1,200 firefighters?

"The way that those work is we have a certain number," said Kristen Bowles, Pole Creek Fire PIO. "It's kind of like a formula, based on the number of people in camp is what we bring in, and at this point we are right where we need to be."

Now there's three semis with 15 showers and several hand-washing stations.

Officials tell me people have been patient waiting in line.

Now along with the supplies, Bowles said the camp serves another role: getting fire information out not only to the public, but to the ones fighting the fires, too.

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