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Fire base camp at Hood River gearing up for a long stay

About a thousand firefighters are staying at this camp in Hood River. (KATU Photo)

Thick smoke still surrounds the tents and tables and portable toilets that firefighters use to get at least a little break from the Eagle Creek fire.

With roads and sanitation and even a finance department, this town within a town operates around the clock.

The parking lot of the Hood River County fairgrounds is packed with rigs of all sorts from almost every county in Oregon and many in Washington, and as far away as New Mexico and Minnesota.

"All these firefighters have gone through additional training to become wildland firefighters," says Oregon state fire marshal spokesperson Sandy Roberts. "They're working 12- to 16-hour days or nights, and have maybe eight hours off to clean up, talk to their family, eat something, and get some sleep. Then it's back on the job.”

A KATU crew caught up with Lt. John Zimmerman from the Albany Fire Department as he was headed to try to get some sleep.

"Sleeping's been the most difficult thing on this one, so I'm just trying to get little bits of sleep here and there wherever I can," he said as he headed for his tent.

But the firefighters are waking up to something new this day -- a mobile laundromat for smoky smelly clothes that haven't seen suds in days.

Many of the firefighters showed up with one or even no change of clothes.

While the laundry may make this place feel a little more like home, it's a sign that firefighters may be sticking around awhile.

That's why showers and a kitchen were set up days ago.

Breakfast and dinner are served hot. And lunch is purely grab and go, packed up by the kids from Timberlake Job Corps.

"Most of these kids have never even had an eight-hour-a-day job, so they come out here and learn how to work hard and learn team building and learn something about leadership," says crew chief Scott Kingsford.

Hanging around nearly a thousand firefighters who just won't quit, the kids may pick up on something the firefighters themselves have learned.

"Relying on the people you work with to keep you safe, to be there when they need you, tired or hungry or whatever," says Roberts. "Watching out for your co-worker is critical."

At the rate the Eagle Creek fire is going, they may be at this camp watching out for each other for several more weeks.

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