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Pictures | Thu Sep 24, 2020 | 10:07am EDT

'Hillbilly Brigade' saves Oregon town from raging wildfires

Nicole West stands for a portrait with her dog Oink on a bulldozer during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla, Oregon, September 16, 2020. West steered her bulldozer through the smoldering forest, pushing logs into the underbrush and away from the wildfires ripping through Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Her border collie, Oink, rode shotgun as West and a volunteer crew raced to clear a fireline. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Nicole West stands for a portrait with her dog Oink on a bulldozer during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla, Oregon, September 16, 2020. West steered her bulldozer through the smoldering forest, pushing logs into the underbrush and...more

Nicole West stands for a portrait with her dog Oink on a bulldozer during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla, Oregon, September 16, 2020. West steered her bulldozer through the smoldering forest, pushing logs into the underbrush and away from the wildfires ripping through Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Her border collie, Oink, rode shotgun as West and a volunteer crew raced to clear a fireline. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Matt Meyers poses with his chainsaw in a forest during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla. He is among the men and women of the "Hillbilly Brigade" - about 1,200 in all who came together this past week to fight the state's biggest fire in a century. They are credited with saving the mountain hamlet of Molalla, an hour's drive south of Portland, after its 9,000 residents were forced to evacuate.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Matt Meyers poses with his chainsaw in a forest during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla. He is among the men and women of the "Hillbilly Brigade" - about 1,200 in all who came together this past week to fight the state's biggest fire...more

Matt Meyers poses with his chainsaw in a forest during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire near Molalla. He is among the men and women of the "Hillbilly Brigade" - about 1,200 in all who came together this past week to fight the state's biggest fire in a century. They are credited with saving the mountain hamlet of Molalla, an hour's drive south of Portland, after its 9,000 residents were forced to evacuate. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Trees are seen fire damaged during the aftermath of fires in Clackamas County, near Molalla. In a year when ferocious wildfires have killed at least 21 people and burned millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California, the brigade has pulled off a miracle in the thick forests around Molalla in recent days, residents and fire officials say. They organized and deployed themselves with little or no help from a small and overwhelmed local fire department - which focused on protecting the town center - or from state and federal agencies who were deployed elsewhere.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Trees are seen fire damaged during the aftermath of fires in Clackamas County, near Molalla. In a year when ferocious wildfires have killed at least 21 people and burned millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California, the brigade has pulled...more

Trees are seen fire damaged during the aftermath of fires in Clackamas County, near Molalla. In a year when ferocious wildfires have killed at least 21 people and burned millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California, the brigade has pulled off a miracle in the thick forests around Molalla in recent days, residents and fire officials say. They organized and deployed themselves with little or no help from a small and overwhelmed local fire department - which focused on protecting the town center - or from state and federal agencies who were deployed elsewhere. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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"We were left on our own to stop this," said Nicole West, a 36-year-old ranch hand, as she briefly paused her dozer. "There wasn't anybody coming from the state to save us. So we had to save ourselves."

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

"We were left on our own to stop this," said Nicole West, a 36-year-old ranch hand, as she briefly paused her dozer. "There wasn't anybody coming from the state to save us. So we had to save ourselves." REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

"We were left on our own to stop this," said Nicole West, a 36-year-old ranch hand, as she briefly paused her dozer. "There wasn't anybody coming from the state to save us. So we had to save ourselves." REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A boy climbs a scaffolding at the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat the donations provided from the community near Molalla. Mike Penunuri, fire marshal for the Molalla fire district, which has just 13 firefighters and 33 volunteers, called the massive ad-hoc effort "amazing." Penunuri's crews spent the past week hosing down flames that lapped at the town's edge and battling back fires around farm houses.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A boy climbs a scaffolding at the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat the donations provided from the community near Molalla. Mike Penunuri, fire marshal for the Molalla fire...more

A boy climbs a scaffolding at the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat the donations provided from the community near Molalla. Mike Penunuri, fire marshal for the Molalla fire district, which has just 13 firefighters and 33 volunteers, called the massive ad-hoc effort "amazing." Penunuri's crews spent the past week hosing down flames that lapped at the town's edge and battling back fires around farm houses. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The Hillbilly Brigade "improvised and turned their pick-ups into fire engines on the fly," Penunuri said. "They put stock tanks in the beds and used pumps to put out hot spots. These are just regular guys from the area. They are not trained."

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Hillbilly Brigade "improvised and turned their pick-ups into fire engines on the fly," Penunuri said. "They put stock tanks in the beds and used pumps to put out hot spots. These are just regular guys from the area. They are not...more

The Hillbilly Brigade "improvised and turned their pick-ups into fire engines on the fly," Penunuri said. "They put stock tanks in the beds and used pumps to put out hot spots. These are just regular guys from the area. They are not trained." REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A car sits outside a home destroyed by fire in the Cascade mountain range near Molalla. Residents of Molalla went to sleep on Labor Day thinking it was safe from the wildfires, but unusual wind gusts stunned forecasters and officials and pushed the fire north at a rapid clip. In the early morning hours on Sept. 8, it looked like Molalla would be engulfed in flames, just as towns in southern Oregon had been. 

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A car sits outside a home destroyed by fire in the Cascade mountain range near Molalla. Residents of Molalla went to sleep on Labor Day thinking it was safe from the wildfires, but unusual wind gusts stunned forecasters and officials and pushed the...more

A car sits outside a home destroyed by fire in the Cascade mountain range near Molalla. Residents of Molalla went to sleep on Labor Day thinking it was safe from the wildfires, but unusual wind gusts stunned forecasters and officials and pushed the fire north at a rapid clip. In the early morning hours on Sept. 8, it looked like Molalla would be engulfed in flames, just as towns in southern Oregon had been. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The brigade formed quickly, amassing people who knew one another well and knew the difficult terrain all around them better than any outsider. They were lumberjacks and dairy farmers, friends and neighbors, cobbling together rudimentary equipment.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The brigade formed quickly, amassing people who knew one another well and knew the difficult terrain all around them better than any outsider. They were lumberjacks and dairy farmers, friends and neighbors, cobbling together rudimentary...more

The brigade formed quickly, amassing people who knew one another well and knew the difficult terrain all around them better than any outsider. They were lumberjacks and dairy farmers, friends and neighbors, cobbling together rudimentary equipment. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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On September 8, Terry Price (pictured) heard a neighbor banging at his door at 1 a.m., warning of fast-approaching fires about four miles south of Molalla on the Missouri Ridge. The Riverside fire was barreling down a valley toward his place as the Beachie Creek fire approached from the southwest. In that moment, the 59-year-old Price, a salty and assertive man, became the de facto Hillbilly Brigade leader in this section of the county, neighbors said. "I dole things out for the boys to do," Price said. "I'm just that guy. It's what I've always done."

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

On September 8, Terry Price (pictured) heard a neighbor banging at his door at 1 a.m., warning of fast-approaching fires about four miles south of Molalla on the Missouri Ridge. The Riverside fire was barreling down a valley toward his place as the...more

On September 8, Terry Price (pictured) heard a neighbor banging at his door at 1 a.m., warning of fast-approaching fires about four miles south of Molalla on the Missouri Ridge. The Riverside fire was barreling down a valley toward his place as the Beachie Creek fire approached from the southwest. In that moment, the 59-year-old Price, a salty and assertive man, became the de facto Hillbilly Brigade leader in this section of the county, neighbors said. "I dole things out for the boys to do," Price said. "I'm just that guy. It's what I've always done." REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The Oregon Department of Forestry said it was overwhelmed trying to fight fires across the state. Its district near Molalla has just 26 firefighters and not near enough equipment to respond to the massive fires in the region, said spokeswoman Joy Krawczyk. "We cannot be everywhere at once, as painful as that is," she said. "As first responders, it's heartbreaking to us that people on the ground felt abandoned."

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Oregon Department of Forestry said it was overwhelmed trying to fight fires across the state. Its district near Molalla has just 26 firefighters and not near enough equipment to respond to the massive fires in the region, said spokeswoman Joy...more

The Oregon Department of Forestry said it was overwhelmed trying to fight fires across the state. Its district near Molalla has just 26 firefighters and not near enough equipment to respond to the massive fires in the region, said spokeswoman Joy Krawczyk. "We cannot be everywhere at once, as painful as that is," she said. "As first responders, it's heartbreaking to us that people on the ground felt abandoned." REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Terry Price said the crew on Missouri Ridge had no access to water. So he set about ripping 20-foot-wide fire lines in the forest with a bulldozer, which itself caught on fire at times as the trees blazed around him. Price's 30-year-old son, Breck, guided him around massive tree trunks as he pushed forward. For two straight days he cut through the earth - and kept the fire at bay about 100 yards from his house. The sky was black and purple. The wind drove the firestorm directly toward his house. Price had never seen anything like it. "It's beyond scary," he said.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Terry Price said the crew on Missouri Ridge had no access to water. So he set about ripping 20-foot-wide fire lines in the forest with a bulldozer, which itself caught on fire at times as the trees blazed around him. Price's 30-year-old son, Breck,...more

Terry Price said the crew on Missouri Ridge had no access to water. So he set about ripping 20-foot-wide fire lines in the forest with a bulldozer, which itself caught on fire at times as the trees blazed around him. Price's 30-year-old son, Breck, guided him around massive tree trunks as he pushed forward. For two straight days he cut through the earth - and kept the fire at bay about 100 yards from his house. The sky was black and purple. The wind drove the firestorm directly toward his house. Price had never seen anything like it. "It's beyond scary," he said. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Fire damaged trees are seen in the Cascade mountain range forest near Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Fire damaged trees are seen in the Cascade mountain range forest near Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Fire damaged trees are seen in the Cascade mountain range forest near Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Matt Meyers (pictured), a 41-year-old power company employee, and his crew were on their ninth straight day of battling blazes for more than 20 hours a day. He explained that he was acting as a type of scout, pushing ahead into the forest ahead of the dozers. He cut down "snags" - dead trees that could quickly fall onto the machinery and drivers - and blazed the initial trails into the forest. 

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Matt Meyers (pictured), a 41-year-old power company employee, and his crew were on their ninth straight day of battling blazes for more than 20 hours a day. He explained that he was acting as a type of scout, pushing ahead into the forest ahead of...more

Matt Meyers (pictured), a 41-year-old power company employee, and his crew were on their ninth straight day of battling blazes for more than 20 hours a day. He explained that he was acting as a type of scout, pushing ahead into the forest ahead of the dozers. He cut down "snags" - dead trees that could quickly fall onto the machinery and drivers - and blazed the initial trails into the forest. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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An elk horn is seen in the yard of a home destroyed by fire. The operation thrived on close and long-standing relationships, Matt Meyers said. "I'm up here fighting these fires with people I've known my whole life," he said. "Communication was easy: We could just stand at the tailgate of a truck and say, 'Steve, do you remember where Brian killed his first buck? You take your crew there.'"

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

An elk horn is seen in the yard of a home destroyed by fire. The operation thrived on close and long-standing relationships, Matt Meyers said. "I'm up here fighting these fires with people I've known my whole life," he said. "Communication was easy:...more

An elk horn is seen in the yard of a home destroyed by fire. The operation thrived on close and long-standing relationships, Matt Meyers said. "I'm up here fighting these fires with people I've known my whole life," he said. "Communication was easy: We could just stand at the tailgate of a truck and say, 'Steve, do you remember where Brian killed his first buck? You take your crew there.'" REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A woman takes food orders for firefighters at the Hansen family farm. The result was a victory - for now - over what had seemed like an overwhelming threat. The Beachie Creek and Riverside fires are not yet contained, leaving residents here on edge. But many are optimistic that the miles of firelines the brigade cut through the forest will provide a buffer if the winds blow the flames back their way.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A woman takes food orders for firefighters at the Hansen family farm. The result was a victory - for now - over what had seemed like an overwhelming threat. The Beachie Creek and Riverside fires are not yet contained, leaving residents here on edge....more

A woman takes food orders for firefighters at the Hansen family farm. The result was a victory - for now - over what had seemed like an overwhelming threat. The Beachie Creek and Riverside fires are not yet contained, leaving residents here on edge. But many are optimistic that the miles of firelines the brigade cut through the forest will provide a buffer if the winds blow the flames back their way. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A sign thanking members of the Hillbilly Brigade stands on a corner of a road near Molalla. 

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A sign thanking members of the Hillbilly Brigade stands on a corner of a road near Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A sign thanking members of the Hillbilly Brigade stands on a corner of a road near Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Steven Richardson, part of the Hillbilly Brigade, works on a hot spot. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Steven Richardson, part of the Hillbilly Brigade, works on a hot spot. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Steven Richardson, part of the Hillbilly Brigade, works on a hot spot. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A truck drives by the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A truck drives by the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A truck drives by the Hansen family farm, where members of the Hillbilly Brigade and firefighters from all over came to rest and eat. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The remains of a sandwich sit in the seat of a truck of a member of the Hillbilly Brigade. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The remains of a sandwich sit in the seat of a truck of a member of the Hillbilly Brigade. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The remains of a sandwich sit in the seat of a truck of a member of the Hillbilly Brigade. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A member of the Hillbilly Brigade points at a location on an updated fire map at the Hansen family farm. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A member of the Hillbilly Brigade points at a location on an updated fire map at the Hansen family farm. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A member of the Hillbilly Brigade points at a location on an updated fire map at the Hansen family farm. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Darian Zeppetella, 18, a volunteer with the Molalla RFPD Fire Station 82 department, stands during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Darian Zeppetella, 18, a volunteer with the Molalla RFPD Fire Station 82 department, stands during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Darian Zeppetella, 18, a volunteer with the Molalla RFPD Fire Station 82 department, stands during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Firefighters get food from community donations outside a resident's home in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Firefighters get food from community donations outside a resident's home in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Firefighters get food from community donations outside a resident's home in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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A man with the Hillbilly Brigade works to clear trees on a bulldozer. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A man with the Hillbilly Brigade works to clear trees on a bulldozer. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A man with the Hillbilly Brigade works to clear trees on a bulldozer. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Volunteers carry donations at Bentley Feed store during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Volunteers carry donations at Bentley Feed store during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Volunteers carry donations at Bentley Feed store during the aftermath of the Riverside Fire in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Bonnie Crawford, who returned to her home after evacuating from fires in Clackamas County, cleans ashes from her sidewalk in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Bonnie Crawford, who returned to her home after evacuating from fires in Clackamas County, cleans ashes from her sidewalk in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Bonnie Crawford, who returned to her home after evacuating from fires in Clackamas County, cleans ashes from her sidewalk in Molalla. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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