The deployment was a success, with lots of traffic passed and SITREPs sent and received. We were able to help firefighters, city administrators, and other citizens with official traffic, welfare traffic, and coordination of firefighting efforts with email and text over HF radio. The town was under a Level-3 evacuation and was virtually a ghost town, with two fires moving in, and a skeleton crew of city officials, fire crews, and a handful of remaining citizens.
Additionally, we operated a Black Echo FM Broadcasting station to keep the citizens informed of updates and a renewed evacuation order on 107.5 FM.
We could see the orange glow in the sky as we traveled northward, but our first glimpse of the blaze was about 30 minutes south of Omak, WA. We stayed the night in our vehicles in the parking lot of the Omak Inn, watching three separate fires in the mountains around us. In the morning we met up with [code name] Delta, who escorted us around the barricades to Conconully, 19 miles to the North West.
Along the route power lines lay on the ground, power poles were burned in whole, half, and busted pieces along the charred hillside on both sides of the county road.
Once in town we were introduced to the Mayor and Fire Chief and were given the Community Hall (grange) to set up the SIGCEN (Signals Center) directly across the street from the fire department.
The Mayor meets with one of the city firefighters for updates as the fire from the north looms closer (below).
We set up our communications center within minutes of our arrival
Antennas consisted of:
– Hustler free-standing 5-band HF with ground radials
– Inverted V multi-band HF dipole (for NVIS, but not set up until Saturday morning)
– Ringo Ranger 2m vertical
– VHF J-Pole tuned at 107.5 MHz for the FM broadcasting station (250 mw, of course!)
Communications gear consisted of:
– HF Rig (Yaesu 897D)
– Yaesu FT100 for 2m operations
– We had two Icom V8000 2m radios, but didn’t use them
– Yaesu 2400 2m mobile (we didn’t have enough 2m antennas though (add those to the list. Note- build two more copper J-poles)
– Bearcat trunking scanner
– Uniden P-25 decoding scanner that we used for ‘Close Call’ for collecting the local frequencies and adding them to the Bearcat scanner
– Various Wouxun, Anytone, and Baofeng HTs.
– I had my IC-7200 and manual tuner ready to go in a large ammo can
– We had at least two other HF dipole antennas and enough coax to get the 7200 operational, but never did.
What would I do differently?
1. Set up the 7200 and dedicate it to net check-ins with the other AmRRON operators and keep the 897D dedicated to welfare traffic and RMS Express email duty.
2. Set up the Icom V8000 dedicated to the linked repeater
3. Set up the Yaesu 2400 mobile 2m and task [code name] ‘Yosher’ with making 2m contacts and scanning for intel on simplex and area repeaters
4. Reallocate the FT100 to making digital/RMS contacts with the AmRRON network.
NOTE: The city administrative personnel and firefighters used an assortment of Baofengs and commercial VHF and UHF comms and a local repeater set up for Fire/EMS, and most of them had 1 to 3 channels programmed in. The DNR/USFS/BLM firefighters had similar commercial handhelds tied to a repeater.
Multiple emails and texts were sent to loved-ones, other agencies, and firefighting personnel using HF ham radio communications. It was a huge morale booster and aided in efficient coordination and administrative tasks that they weren’t able to do without leaving the town of Conconully.
Radio Free Redoubt – Black Echo on 107.5 FM
THE TWO FIRES
The fire approaching from the south (above)
The other fire approaching from the North as the winds pick up to 30 mph from the north (above and below)
The media was a pervasive and annoying presence:
Due to widespread reports of looting and reports of at least one violent attack on a refugee who stumbled across a couple vehicle prowlers, everyone was responsible for their own security. The town, being 95% evacuated, was like a ghost town. Besides the fire crews who came and went, the only other presence on Friday night was an occasional citizen patrolling the streets in a vehicle. Firearms were carried openly and the sight of our weapons brought exclamations of approval, even by one city official who said “Oh, good! I’m glad to see that.” And she meant it.
As poorly as pictures can show at night, 7 to 9 fire truck crews battle the blaze on the north edge of town just three hundred yards to our north:
The following morning we go to inspect the blaze. Across from Pat’s cabin (a retired newspaper man), the flames are just a remnant of the blaze they were earlier in the night. Pat was a patriot who shared his views on world events with fervor and ‘salt’.
The fire (above) across from Pat’s cabin was all that remained of the previous night’s inferno. The fire crews battled for many hours until well after midnight. As you can see (below), Pat had no intentions of leaving, but he was readily prepared to in a moment’s notice, his bugout rig pointed toward the side street was ready to go.
What a cool little town. Yes, this is a real post office (below)
At about noon on Saturday the local phone company had connected (and chained) a generator to a telephone box in town, reestablishing landline communications to the outside world. Shortly afterward we received news that the fire to the south of town had rerouted westward, as well as a forcast for low winds and in a direction suitable for sparing the town. On this news we assessed that our mission was successfully accomplished. We were done and it was time to demobilize.
We had the option of moving on to the next town in search of the next mission or packing it in and going home. Due to the work situations that the AmRRON team faced, we chose to demobilize and began the process of breaking down and packing up.
The drive home was an introspective time for the team, as we debriefed, joked, told stories, and recalled the highlights to each other over 2m simplex. Heading east on Hwy 2 toward Spokane, we skirted the edge of the definitive line between fresh air an fire smoke. It was a good, good mission and we all felt an overwhelming, satisfying sense of accomplishment. We responded in a time of need, and came to the aid of Americans in trouble. We mattered.
The interview with Conconully resident and refugee [code name] DELTA can be listened to HERE: