'Hillbilly Brigade' saves town from wildfires

Video Credit: Reuters - Politics - Duration: 02:29s - Published
'Hillbilly Brigade' saves town from wildfires

'Hillbilly Brigade' saves town from wildfires

Nicole West steered her bulldozer through the smoldering forest, pushing logs into the underbrush and away from the wildfires ripping through Oregon's Cascade Mountains - part of an operation organized by the men and women of the "Hillbilly Brigade," a group that is credited with saving the mountain hamlet of Molalla.

This report produced by Chris Dignam.

WEST: "We are building fire lines and putting out the fires, building fire lines so they don't crawl back up this way." Nicole West and her border collie, Oink, are members of the recently formed "Hillbilly Brigade" - a group of about 1,200 all told, who came together this past week to fight Oregon’s biggest fire in a century - and they're credited with saving the small town of Molalla, after its 9,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

WEST: "We all just started coming up Monday evening when we found out about it.

We got up here about 2 o'clock in the morning and started bringing equipment and water and water trucks and chainsaws and anything we could find and whatever people told us to do is what we went out and did." With her bulldozer and Oink riding shotgun, West and a volunteer crew of untrained and unofficial firefighters pulled off what residents and fire officials are calling a miracle on the front lines of the Riverside fire.

WEST: "One of the main causes are these snags that fall.

They run up it.

It runs up it all the way up to the top and it's like dynamite.

And then it blows up and spreads everything everywhere." The "Hillbilly Brigade" organized and deployed themselves with little or no help from the small and overwhelmed local fire department or from state and federal agencies who were sent elsewhere.

WEST: "When the government bailed, we all stayed... stayed and worked and fought the fire.

Other than that, it would have been completely out of control." The fire marshal for the Molalla fire district, which has just 13 firefighters and 33 volunteers, called the massive ad-hoc effort “amazing,” saying: "These are just regular guys from the area." West, a 36-year-old ranch hand, and her "Hillbilly Brigade" compatriots - consisting of lumberjacks, dairy farmers, friends and neighbors - say the operation has been a success because they knew each other and the difficult terrain better than any outsider.

WEST: "All the volunteers that are volunteering food and their time and their equipment and fuel and parts and mechanics and all that to come in together, we wouldn't have stopped this fire." The wildfires in the area are not yet contained, and residents here are still on edge.

But many are optimistic that the miles of firelines the "Hillbilly Brigade" cut through the forest will provide a buffer if the winds blow the flames back their way.

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