CCFR preparing for wildfire season without wildfire Larch crews


As wildfire season begins, local fire districts, including Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue (CCFR), are preparing for the summer without Larch inmate fire crews.

The Larch Corrections Center, east of Hockinson, went into a “warm closure” in October 2023, with inmates no longer staying in the minimum-security facility. Among the inmates at the corrections center were inmate wildland fire crews that served the southwest Washington region. Now, that resource is no longer readily available.

“We have traditionally enjoyed the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) crews from Larch and the ability for them to have multiple crews come out and help,” CCFR Chief John Nohr said. “So, when they said that they weren’t going to be there anymore, we, like a lot of the fire departments in the county, are very concerned about it.”

Larch crews often provided what is known as “mop-up” operations for fire departments like CCFR. They would clean up and make sure fires had no possibility to reignite, or they took over fire operations with DNR resources if a fire department was unable to fully contain the wildfire.

“What that did for us is it gets our units back in service, and now we’re ready to take emergency medical calls, other fires within our own areas, and we transition it to DNR,” Nohr said. “Without having them out there, we’re going to be on scene longer, which means that we’re going to have fewer units available for the same number of calls that normally come in on any given day. And that’s where my concern is that we may be tied up out of service for many hours. It’s very manpower intensive to cover even a small wildland fire.”

Nohr added that he believes a 10-person hand crew will be stationed in an old East County Fire and Rescue station north of Cam- as, but the concern is if they’re busy, there isn’t another hand crew available in that manner. With the lack of resources, Nohr believes agencies through- out the county will greatly rely on each other this summer.

“I think all the other fire departments know that we’re going to have to rely a little more heavily on mutual aid from each other,” Nohr said. “If DNR is not going to be able to come out and take over as quickly, ... we’re just going to have to wait and see how quickly they can get resources on the scene. So it’s a concern to us, but it’s also new, and we’re going to see how it affects us.”

CCFR Commissioner Jade Bourke echoed the importance of agency cooperation this summer.

“It just makes cooperation between different agencies that much more prevalent,” Bourke said. “I mean, we have to rely on each other in addition to DNR, of course, but the dependency and the need to interact and be working with our partners in the area from mutual aid is just that much more critical.”

Nohr said departments across the county have been participating in multi-agency drills. From water-tender operations to safety and survival drills, area fire departments are putting wildland tactics to the front seat in training.

“This last drill, ... it was people from across the county coming out for a wildland drill. It was all of us looking at each other’s brush units, our hose loads and our communication and basically just getting face to face with our partner agencies saying, ‘Hey, how are you guys going to handle this? How can we help you? How can you help us?’ ” Nohr explained. “But that’s a great way to really emphasize Coming soon what Commissioner Bourke is talking about. So, it’s not just the chief saying we’ll be there if you need; it’s the firefighters on the ground that are out meeting and drilling together.”

Bourke mentioned the small contingent of support volunteers important to rural firefighting, water-tender crews. He said CCFR is always looking for more volunteers to help man water tenders. For more information, visit

Nohr added that the upcoming levy lid lift on the August ballot would fund a replacement for the oldest water tender. For previous reporting on the levy lid lift, visit,338850.