Scouts doused a fire that appeared to have spread from this handmade campfire pit in the Willamette National Forest. For safety reasons, fires should be made in approved pits only, according to Scoutmaster Scott West, who helps oversee wildfire management for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Scouts doused a fire that appeared to have spread from this handmade campfire pit in the Willamette National Forest. For safety reasons, fires should be made in approved pits only, according to Scoutmaster Scott West, who helps oversee wildfire management for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
LANE COUNTY — The Boy Scouts’ motto is “Be prepared,” but when a Stayton-area troop embarked on a 25-mile backpacking trip, they didn’t anticipate that would mean saving a forest from wildfire.

On Aug. 17, members of Troop 50, which includes several Catholics, were on day two of a trek in the Willamette National Forest. When the teenagers stopped for lunch, troop leader Stuart Gamble walked down to the edge of Moolack Lake to scope out a spot to fish. Near the water he noticed an escaped campfire creeping along the ground. It appeared to have started in a handmade campfire pit, where campers had done a shoddy job putting out their flames.

Gamble scrambled back up the trail and informed the boys, who went to work extinguishing the fire. Among the Scouts were Cutler Nelson and Luke West, students at Regis St. Mary School in Stayton.

“The fire was smoky and moving toward the drier areas in the trees,” recalled Luke, whose family attends Immaculate Conception Parish. “It was small, but we knew if we didn’t put it out like we did it would cause a huge forest fire.”

These wildfire-savvy words and roll-up-your-sleeves spirit delighted Luke’s dad, Scoutmaster Scott West. West is chairman of the Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Portland Archdiocese and a regional chair for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. He also happens to fight wildfires as an employee of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

“The fire had great potential to grow into a significant forest fire, burning hundreds if not thousands of acres,” said West. “All it would have taken is hot dry weather and some wind.”

West said he was “proud of the Scouts’ good work and really proud as a dad, too.”

The youths acted with smarts and some sweat to get the job done. Using water bottles and a small shovel they dug around and doused the dry, smoking brush. Four Scouts and a couple of adults formed a chain to relay water from the lake to the fire, while two Scouts stayed with the group’s backpacks about 1.5 miles away.

The teens poured around 150 to 200 gallons of water on the fire, according to troop leaders.

The following day, the Scouts’ practical know-how once again came in handy as they gave the coordinates of the fire’s location to the U.S. Forest Service, making it easy for agency staff to find the spot. The Forest Service later informed West that the area was still wet and cold and had no heat. “It was a job well-done,” said West.

He added that if the fire had spread and grown in size, it could have had a negative impact on the habitat and ecosystem and cost millions of dollars to extinguish.

The Scouts received kudos from the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Willamette National Forest.

A Forest Service tweet said the troop members were heroes.

“I think we prevented something from causing a lot of harm,” said Luke. “It did feel really good.”