Rangers play key role in forest evacuations

Experience in the forest proves valuable

Rangers help evacuate Pole Creek hikers to safety

SISTERS, Ore. - When a wildfire breaks out in the national forest, forest rangers sometimes risk their lives leading people out of the woods and back to safety. But just how prepared are they for such dangerous situations?

The Deschutes National Forest wilderness and trail rangers have no search and rescue training in evacuations, but they are experienced in the basics of first aid and CPR.

The rangers have great communication skills with the public, but more importantly they know the forest.

When the Pole Creek Fire first began, fire officials feverishly planned their approach.

"Things were in order -- I mean it's always just a titch crazy during the beginning of a fire," Recreation Team Leader Kirk Flannigan said Monday,

And they soon learned there were people that could be in harm's way.

"We know we have campers up that trail and up toward Middle Sisters, so when we learned that, we got a solid group of people together," said Flannigan.

That group included five forest rangers.

"That's really key," Flannigan said. "We really want people that know the area, know how to get around, both on the trails and off the trails."

Flannigan assists and supervises rangers in his group, and he says the Sunday night after the fire broke out, his rangers did something great.

"They lined the trail in front of them where they were camping with tools and equipment," Flannigan said. "So that anybody who was hiking out would physically run out to an object and look over and see a group of people camping."

This equipment did help a group of people who ran into it, and the Forest Service led them to safety.

Another group happy to have listened to officials was a group of four hikers who were hiking along the Pole Creek trail.

The group called 911, which informed them the trailhead had been evacuated and they couldn't return to their cars.

The group tried to inform fellow hikers, but some decided not to listen.

"We told him the trailhead had been evacuated, but they pressed on," Flannigan said. "A car was already on fire at the time, so we would have put rescuers in harm."

The group is glad they didn't go back to their cars -- two of them were destroyed.

"The No. 1 priority was to get the people out safe and sound, albeit they were probably tired and probably thirsty," Flannigan said.

As people started to trickle out through the Park Meadows area, forest rangers were able to coordinate with Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue to have the campers and hikers picked up at the trailhead.

They were eventually brought to the district station and reunited with friends and families.

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