North Fire Hero, Jai Odyssea - By George Garnett, US Forest Service

North Fire - Lon & Jai

Yuba River District Ranger, Lon Henderson congratulating Jai Odyssea of the Tahoe National Forest

 

The North Fire that started September 3, 2018 could have been much worse had it not been for the heroic deeds of one very special U.S. Forest Service employee. The U.S. Forest Service would like to recognize Jai Odyssea who demonstrated outstanding effort, diligence and bravery in the line of duty.

Each and every year, the U.S. Forest Service hires temporary employees who work for the spring and summer season to assist with public lands management during the busiest time of year. On the Labor Day holiday, right around 3 p.m., Jai Odyssea, a Recreation Specialist for the Tahoe National Forest was about to return to his Ranger District.  On the way, he noticed the handy-work of two young kids who were building a dam on the edge of a stream causing water to flood a campground. Jai stopped to replace the rocks which prevented water from flooding the site.

Just as Jai was about to leave, a young woman in a white sedan waved frantically at Jai, pleading for him to rescue an elderly woman, Rebecca, who had a hard time getting herself out of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River.  (Yep, it’s a mouthful). In addition, the woman wanted to alert authorities about an approaching fire. Based on her report and knowing how dry it was, Jai reached for his radio to call dispatch to apprise them of the fire. The time was approximately 3:10pm. That important task done, Jai listened as she told him where she had last seen her companion--and then she drove off!  Jai next went to rescue Rebecca.

North Fire - Jai - USFS Truck

Jai located her standing in the water by the river bank with a walking stick pleading for help. She said she could not get out of the water because of the wet, slippery rocks. Jai held her free hand to pull her up out of the water while watching a large plume of smoke and fire advance towards them. They walked for a few minutes until they found a safe place for her to cross. After assisting Rebecca, Jai returned to his truck and made a second call to dispatch with a more complete size up. He mentioned to dispatch that the height of the smoke was more than 100 meters tall.

The first responder to arrive on the scene was U.S. Forest Service District Fire Management Officer, Linda Ferguson, who asked if there were any others near the campsite. Jai explained he saw one gentleman who had quickly left. Linda took Rebecca and later would say that “Jai was a huge help in locating people and evacuating the area.”  

North Fire - Smoke

Jai knew the area.  South of North Fork Campground, there’s a double waterfall which he describes as “picturesque.” In fact; the waterfall was so nice and sheltered, when Jai tried to evacuate the ten or more swimmers because of the approaching danger, they were reluctant to leave.  Jai said, “They took their time gathering their trash and trying to clean-up.” Even though they were doing the right thing under normal circumstances, Jai told them to not worry about the trash. Jai had to express urgency about the fire, and tell them to leave before they evacuated.

Emergency response was immediate. “A Cal Fire Engine was the closest to the scene, then the Forest Service. More engines arrived in what seemed like minutes after that.” said Jai. Then, bulldozers and other equipment were there on the scene - thanks to dispatch. Jai was surprised how quickly and fast the fire had grown. If it were not for the quick and prioritized efforts of Jai Odyssea and the first responders, the fire could have grown to a size that would have made managing the blaze even more difficult.

When Jai first sized up the North Fire, it was about 20 acres. Within a few hours, it had grown to 500 acres. Within a few days, it could have grown to tens of thousands of acres but, because of the efforts of all who participated in controlling the North Fire, it did not grow beyond 1120 acres. 

Lon Henderson, District Ranger for the Yuba River Ranger District explains, “Our modeling shows that this fire, unchecked, would likely have spread north of highway 80 and into residential areas. Instead, the North Fire is an example of what having the right people, the right equipment, and the right timing can do when the deck isn’t stacked against us. We are grateful for the diligent efforts of all who quickly arrived to control this incident.”

In fire response, every minute counts and Jai used them perfectly. At this time, the North Fire is near full containment and complete fire containment is expected by September 29.

The Forest Service is extremely grateful for all who worked hard on this fire and for employees like Jai Odyssea. His supervisor, Cecilia Reed, Public Services Assistant for the Tahoe National Forest, explains, “Jai is a great guy! He’s always gone above and beyond. We are grateful to have him.”  Jai has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and was working at a pet store before his fiancé, Laney, who works for the Botany Crew for U.S. Forest Service encouraged him to apply. We are looking forward to seeing more of Jai Odyssea.





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