Firefighters in west remain busy

BY PJ HELLER | BOISE, IDAHO | July 14, 2001


As firefighters mourn the death of

four of their colleagues who died battling a wildfire in Washington,

officials in the western U.S. continued to face a busy firefighting

season with more than 100 strikes a day.

Below normal precipitation in the Northwest, California, the

northern Rockies and Nevada have kept fire officials on edge. Nevada

is experiencing its second driest year since 1871, according to the

National Interagency Fire Center.

The only saving grace for agencies battling the blazes was an

infusion of federal money this year allowing them to hire more

firefighters and buy more equipment. The Interagency Fire Center in

Boise hired 5,000 additional firefighters for this season.

"We still have a month and a half to go (in fire season) and we

certainly have to stay alert," said Rose Davis a spokesperson with

the agency, noting that numerous fires continue to be started by

lightning strikes.

"We have excellent initial attack resources this year because of the

money we received through the national fire plan," she noted. "So

we've been very fortunate even with hundreds of strikes and new

starts a day to have the people to put them out."

Officials are still concerned about drought conditions in Washington,

Oregon and Idaho and drying conditions in Nevada and Utah.

"We're concerned about the storms coming through and the drying trend

expected next week," she said.

The agency reported five new large fires in Oregon, Idaho and New

Mexico. They were among more some 14 active large reported Thursday

that covered about 24,000 acres. Overall, more than 350 new fires

were reported by the agency on Thursday.

In addition to the fires in Idaho, Oregon and New Mexico, fires were

burning in California, Colorado, Montana and Washington. None of the

fires was threatening any residential areas, Rose said, with most of

the fires burning in forests and on range land.

The Oasis fire in southeastern Idaho threatened some residences and

two outbuildings were burned, she reported. That fire was 80 percent

contained as of Friday afternoon.

Meantime, investigators continued to look into how four Forest

Service firefighters died while battling a blaze in the Cascade

Mountains on Tuesday (July 10). All four had deployed their emergency

foil shelters after flames overtook them. The foil shelters are a

standard issue item for Forest Service crews and their use is

considered a last resort when there are no other avenues of escape.

Seventeen other crew members and two civilians managed to outrun the fire.

The 8,200-acre blaze was burning in a steep canyon of the Chewuch

River Valley when it exploded and sent the fire crews racing for

their lives. Rose said investigators were looking into the

possibility that the fire was caused by people in the area.

"I believe the majority of the fires we've had - the majority of the

hundreds of starts - are caused by lightning," she said.

Rose said the fatal Washington fire and another blaze 15 miles south

of Twist in the eastern part of the state were among the agency's

major concerns.

"The Pacific Northwest is where we're seeing a lot of starts and a

few of those are becoming large fires," she said. "It's really where

we have large fires burning. We're shipping resources to them."

She said more fires were expected as storms moved into the area.

Another fire in central Oregon had grown to 350 acres as of Friday,

she said. Other fires in the region were burning in remote areas and

firefighters were monitoring those blazes and doing only limited

suppression.


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