Wildfires race across West

BY HENRY BRIER | BOISE, IDAHO | August 16, 2001


Wildfires consuming hundreds of thousands of acres across the United

States - primarily in western states - are spreading rapidly,

although only a few communities are currently directly under seige.

For the first time this year, the National Interagency Fire

Information Center (NIFC) said the National Preparedness Level

reached Level Four on Monday, just one short of the most serious

level. More than 8,500 firefighters were trying to contain fires

across the West.

In Oregon, at least 30 fires were active. A fire in Quartz, near the

California border burned a cabin and a house over the weekend and

firefighters said at least 10 more homes in the Dog Prairie area were

"undefensible." According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, the

state is spending about $1 million a day to fight the fires.

About 200 National Guard members were supplementing firefighters in

that state, after the state's governor declared an emergency.

"It's that time of year. Typically the end of the summer can be peak

wildfire season." said Chris Barone, a spokeswoman for the United

States Forest Service, on Tuesday afternoon. "The numbers are fluid.

They can change as we speak. In 20 minutes those statistics can

change."

In Nevada, meanwhile, firefighters were having some success Tuesday

in containing some of the largest fires, but more than 200,000 acres

have burned in that state this month.

The majority of the fires in Nevada are scorching ranges where people

do not live, according to Jackie Leonard, a disaster response

facilitator with the Church World Service/Emergency Response Program.

Many fires in Nevada began as a result of lightning.

"During fire season we get lots of fires. A lot of them are sparked

by lightning," Leonard said. "The fires aren't threatening any cities

or any dwellings, but you got to get them out because some of those

areas are grazing areas for sheep and cattle."

According to NIFC figures Tuesday afternoon, at least 312,089 acres

were burning in Nevada and California, as well as Arizona, Colorado,

Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

One factor that made much of the burning acreage prone to wildfires

is the recent heat wave the dried out many regions, said Mike

Apicello, a spokesman for the NIFC. Many fields were very dry when

lightning storms passed over, two components needed to start fires.

However, he noted, not all wildfires are bad for the environment.

"Not all fire is bad. When you see a fire, it doesn't mean that

everything is going to burn," Apicello explained. "It actually can

benefit the landscape. Fires are healthy and beneficial. They add

nutrients to the soil."

But when the fires will be put out is a question that is impossible to answer.

Neil Molenaar, a disaster response facilitator with the Church World

Service/Emergency Response Program in Washington State said it is

impossible to predict when the fires will be extinguished.

"It's hard to say when these things are going to be suppressed,"

Molenaar said. "We just have to wait until the fires are out."


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