LEABURG, Ore. – The actions of fire crews during the Holiday Farm Fire not only helped save lives and property, but also wildlife.
When the fire broke out, the Eugene Water and Electric Board opened rollgates on the Leaburg Dam as a precaution for debris from the fire that could come down the river and clog or overtop the dam, causing a problem for nearby wildlife.
Since 1953, the Leaburg Hatchery near the dam has helped bring fish back to rivers of the Willamette Basin. But after the dam gates were opened, the Leaburg Hatchery started to lose water. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff were forced to release over one million fish into the river soon after the fire started, but between 5 and 10% didn't make it out of the hatchery.
The sturgeon and rainbow trout which are popular with tourists were stuck in display ponds, and firefighters took notice.
Darren Bucich, Chief of McKenzie Fire and Rescue, said firefighters quickly thought of a way to help.
"One evening the crew from Eugene-Springfield -- the task force leaders -- we got to talking about ‘let's just dump some water in there and see what happens,’" Bucich said. "(It) kind of aerated the water at the same time. The fish were belly up so to speak. And by doing that, adding a little more oxygen to the water, it brought them back to life."
Most of the fish that were released by hatchery staff -- yearling spring chinook, summer steelhead and rainbow trout -- are expected to survive after spending the next few months in the river.
Those popular sturgeon also survived, but may be released into the McKenzie River later. The hatchery itself sustained minimal damage.
“There are some success stories from this. There's also a lot of sad stories too. It's a good feeling to know there's some things that are still there,” Bucich said.