Reuter's Report: 'Hillbilly Brigade' saves town from wildfires
Reuter's Report: 'Hillbilly Brigade' saves town from wildfires
2 min • Nature & Environment • 2020

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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. 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. 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. 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.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. 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.This report is produced by Chris Dignam.(c) 2020 Thomson Reuters, unless otherwise identified. PHOTO: Nicole West, part of the Hillbilly Brigade of some 1,200 men and women who spontaneously came together to fight fires, stands for a portrait petting her dog Oink on a bulldozer during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla, Oregon, U.S., September 16, 2020. Picture taken September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton