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Answering the call

Local forester helping get information out amid wildfires

Photo submitted by Cecile Stelter Smoke from the Brattain Fire obscures the sky in south-central Oregon over the camp set up for the about 500 responders who were working to contain the blaze and minimize its damages last week. As of Monday, reporting on the fire indicates that it is 95 percent contained.

When wildfires threaten life and property, the call goes out far and wide.

Forester Cecile Stelter of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry Cornplanter District is one of those who answered the call.

The Brattain fire has consumed about 50,000 acres of south-central Oregon.

“It was started by human cause on Sept. 6 and is under investigation,” Stelter said. “It threatened over 300 residences.”

Nearly 500 people had been called in to work the fire.

Photo submitted by Cecile Stelter

Stelter’s role is as a public information officer.

“I work with the local resources and all the resources that the team manages,” she said. “We get out timely and accurate information … evacuations, statistics about the fire, current and predicted behavior. We’re here to answer the questions from the public.”

“People need to know what’s happening, where to go, how long things are going to last,” she said. “It could be moving in one direction one day and threatening another area or direction the next.”

There is plenty of information available through social media, but social media is no substitute for information from experts.

“Anyone can post anything,” Stelter said. “We want people to be able to make the best decisions for their circumstances.”

The responders are located within sight of the fire.

“I’m based out of the incident command post,” Stelter said. “I can see the fire but I am in a safe location. My tent is pitched in the middle of a hay field — a mowed hay field.”

People are being called in from all over. Likewise, equipment is hard to find.

“Resources are very scarce because of all the wildfires that are occurring,” Stelter said. “We have engines, hand-crews, bulldozers. We got in a couple graders. We have two helicopters. At one point, we had several more. As resources are not needed on one incident, they are going to others. “

A week ago, the Brattain fire was working but under about 50 percent containment. “The fire’s looking really good,” Stelter said. “We’re having some moderating weather conditions. We’re not getting the high winds.”

By the time she finishes the 14- to 21-day assignment, it should be all but wrapped up. As of Monday, reporting on the fire showed it 95 percent contained.

Shipping out to assist on a western wildfire is rewarding work for Stelter. She is helping where she is needed and things are covered at home.

“I have a really good staff. I feel very comfortable in handling things,” she said. “It allows me to help.”

Thanks to the work of the responders, including Stelter, no one had been injured on the fire and none of those 300 residences were lost.

Still, people are hurting.

“This is an area where there is a lot of grazing, ranches, cattle, and timber,” Stelter said. “What was burned affects people’s daily lives out here.”

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