Many valley residents over the past month, since the fires began, have driven past several locations and seen the seas of tents and trailers of fire camps. These mini-cities within the Okanogan Fairgrounds, Omak Stampede Grounds, and other locations can house up to 2,000 firefighters and incident management team members at one. The Omak Stampede Grounds currently is home to the Okanogan, North Star, and Tunk Block.
A fire camp is a small city comprised of all the main components you’d find in any town. Sometimes there are more people living in fire camps than some of the towns hosting the camps! Base camp is set up rapidly in a matter of days.
Basic needs of employees are covered: food, shelter, security, safety, medical assistance, and supplies to get the job done. Each person brings his or her own tent and sleeping bag or can check them out from Supply. There is a range of sizes and shapes of tents, trailers, and motorhomes, though tents by far are the preferred housing for crews, who often move from one incident to another during the fire season. At one point, the Okanogan Complex had firefighters from 32 states and three countries in fire camp.
Port-a-potties, mobile shower units, and mobile caterers provide for daily needs. Two hot meals and a sack lunch are provided each day. It takes a lot of resources and food to run a fire camp.
Tents, yurts, and trailers provide office and work space for a variety of staff: incident command, safety, information, liaison, human resources, planners, operations, air support, and facilities. There are also people working in logistics, finance, fire behavior, training, incident meteorology, computer technology, transportation, documentation, personnel, GIS, demobilization, and tracking of resources (crews and equipment).
Work days run long with a 15-hour shift the norm. Crews, teams, and support personnel can have assignments for up to 21 days before needing to take a day off. Mornings in camp start early, around 5 am for most people, with a briefing at 6 am to hear the previous day’s accomplishment on the firelines, operational plans for the new day, and safety discussion. Work days end by 10 pm in order for firefighters to get their much-needed rest to start another 15-hour day in the suppression effort.