Stories in this Regional News Roundup are excerpted from weekly newspapers from around the region. This is part two, with part one having appeared in Saturday’s Tribune.
Sean Johnson saw firsthand the difference between wildfires in Idaho and those in Australia.
“It’s almost like an oil type of fire, where they become very hot very rapidly and have very large fire growth days that are unprecedented from anything I’ve seen,” said Johnson, a Payette National Forest employee who spent a month in Australia aiding local firefighting efforts.
He was one of the first group of 18 Forest Service staff from across the United States that were selected to aid the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
More than 200 Forest Service personnel have been sent to help fight fires in Australia so far this fire season to help combat “bush fires,” as wildfires there are called.
The Forest Service employees provided needed relief for Australian firefighters who had been under siege for months.
“A lot of the Australian firefighters have been fighting fires since August and September, so our primary mission was to get over there and learn their process as quickly as possible so that we could get them time off,” Johnson said.
Part of that relief was working on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
“We worked both of those days to give those folks some time off with their families,” Johnson said. “We had no special Christmas dinner or anything like that. It was work.”
Johnson’s team was based in the town of Mudgee and worked on four fires in the western edge of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales in Southeastern Australia.
By the time he left, they were able to contain two of the four fires and call one “out,” but the other two burned together and joined with a third fire.
Johnson described the vegetation in Australia as similar to both California and Idaho, but the oil-based eucalyptus trees and steep terrain provided a unique challenge and explosive fire growth.
Johnson, 48, of Donnelly, reprised his usual role on the Payette, overseeing operations in the air and on the ground as well as tactical firefighting decisions.
“Fighting fire, whether you’re in Australia or here, the tactics on the ground are very similar to ours,” he said.
Unknown local slang and mountain peaks bearing aboriginal names were a challenge, as was the conversion from hectares to acres, kilometers to miles and driving on the left side of the road, Johnson said.
Payette Forest Division Supervisor Monica Morrison, sawyer Ben Cobalt and Air Attack Group Supervisor Gary Munson were also sent on work details.
The Payette employees volunteered for the assignment, but were paid for their time through an agreement between the two countries, with Australia funding the deployment.
The community’s gratitude for the relief crew’s efforts was on full display.
“The locals not only from Mudgee but everywhere we went were very thankful for our service in particular giving up our Christmas and New Year’s which is a special holiday for families,” Johnson said.
“We had lunches and coffee often paid for by locals when we would go into the stores,” he said.
An unprecedented fire season has claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and razed more than 27 million acres, according to news reports.
— Max Silverson, the Star-News (McCall), Thursday
Dayton-Waitsburg meeting tackles mascots
DAYTON — The Dayton-Waitsburg Combine Committee met late last month to discuss mascots and athletic codes as well as go over the new league alignments.
Four mascot names have been chosen by the Associated Student Body leaders to be considered for adoption: Valley Vikings, Valley Wolfpack, Birddogs and the Giants. Students and the members of the community have an opportunity to weigh in on the names and even suggest other name possibilities to the two schools ASBs for their approval. Input for names will be accepted through Wednesday so students in grades six to 12 at Dayton and Waitsburg can vote Friday for the new mascot name to be associated with the athletic teams.
Action on the official adoption of a mascot name selection could be taken as soon as the respective school board meetings on Feb. 19 and 20. The intent is to make a selection soon in order to procure the new uniforms for the coming sports seasons. One concern put forth regarding this process would be the costs associated with rebranding both schools, adding or removing current Cardinals and Bulldog décor.
— Victoria Fowler, the Times (Waitsburg), Thursday
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