(Long) Cooler weather helps firefighters in Northwest
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Tue Aug 21 01:00:17 EST 2001
>From The Oregonian, Aug. 20, 2001, p A1
Cooler weather helps firefighters in Northwest
By CRAIG BROWN, The Oregonian
Cooler temperatures and calm winds on Sunday helped reduce the threat
of the wildfires that are still consuming large chunks of the rural
"One of our three enemies, the weather, is weakening right now," said
Rick Acosta, fire information officer for one of the region's most
stubborn blazes, the Rex Complex near Lake Chelan, Wash.
The other two enemies - withering drought and inaccessible terrain -
More than 20 major fires continued burning in Oregon and Washington,
consuming an estimated 354,000 acres. No homes or structures were
damaged Sunday, and the threat to developed areas had eased greatly by
The Northwest fires are among 34 being tracked by the National
Interagency Coordinating Center in Boise. So far, those fires have
burned 380,765 acres.
Gov. John Kitzhaber said Sunday on ABC's "This Morning" that unless
agressive steps are taken to improve the health of Northwest forests,
hundreds of firefighters will be put at risk each summer and billions
of dollars in emergency appropriations wasted.
At issue, Kitzhaber said, is a century of fire suppression that has
created a "huge fuel load." He recommended thinning, prescribed burns
and "some repairing and restoration" over the next decade to restore
Instead of making emergency appropriations after massive fires - $1.6
billion was appropriated to address last summer's Western blazes - he
said such long-term investments would "save the country billions of
dollars, and I would say hundreds of lives over time."
"There's a great opportunity to bridge the gaps here between the
industry and the environmental community and produce a very healthy
ecosystem out here," the Democratic governor said.
Sunday, a motley mix of 11,000 people was deployed on Northwest fire
lines, including federal, state and local firefighters, National Guard
troops, a U.S. Army battalion from Fort Lewis, Wash., and inmates from
Washington and Oregon prisons.
As crews gained the upper hand on one fire, they were shuttled to
another. Orders for additional help and equipment continued to be
backlogged for 24 to 48 hours Sunday, said David Widmark, spokesman at
the Northwest Interagency Command Center in Portland.
"We have maxed out the available firefighting air fleet in the United
States," Widmark said. Canadians have contributed some aircraft, and
some U.S. military helicopters were pressed into service.
The hottest spots:
- The Rex Complex near Lake Chelan continued spreading into steep,
remote terrain in the heart of Washington's Cascade Mountains but was
avoiding the settlement of Stehekin at the tip of the lake. "That one
is going to give us a migraine headache," Widmark predicted, because
of the unusually steep terrain and lack of roads.
- The Monument Complex in Eastern Oregon, remained "explosive and
dangerous" on its north side Sunday, said Dave Wells of the Oregon
Department of Forestry. However, the threat to the town of Monument
had ended, and the fire engines that had guarded the small town were
sent home or to other fires. By 8:30 p.m. Sunday, firefighters had the
blaze more than half contained.
- The Goodnoe Hills fire eight miles southeast of Goldendale, Wash.,
roared from a spark to encompass 15,000 acres by Saturday night but
grew more slowly on Sunday as Columbia River Gorge winds eased.
Control was expected by Sunday night.
The Goodnoe Hills fire was blamed on sparks from a passing train.
However, most of the fires were started by lightning storms that
rippled across the region last week. No new major fires were reported
Sunday, and the National Weather Service forecast light rain for some
areas by Tuesday evening.
In Oregon, firefighters were still deployed on a dozen blazes. None
of the fires made major advances Sunday, and firefighters declared
some of the blazes under control.
The Horse Creek fire, which threatened structures in the town of
Imnaha on Saturday, was dampened by light rain overnight. By Sunday
afternoon, a fire line protected the community and there was talk of
releasing the crews sent to protect structures. The fire was still
burning actively on some other flanks, said fire spokesman Dave
Along U.S. 395, a major route through Eastern Oregon, the Bridge
Creek fire was in the clean-up stage by Sunday afternoon. It had
threatened 33 homes, but none was destroyed.
The Sheepshead fire, which burned 49,000 acres in the desert 50 miles
southeast of Burns, was expected to be fully contained by late Sunday.
Other Oregon fires, including the Quartz fire southwest of Ashland,
spread little Sunday.
In north-central Washington, the Icicle Complex, near the
Bavarian-theme town of Leavenworth, didn't spread much Sunday, said
Mary Jo Sanborn, a spokeswoman with the Wenatchee National Forest.
Firefighters were taking advantage of the cooler, calmer weather to
tie fire lines into existing roads, trails and natural firebreaks.
Father north, in Okanogan County, crews continued fighting range
fires near Virginia Lake and the small town of Tonasket.
The Virginia Lake fire, which is on the Colville Indian Reservation,
continued growing Sunday in rocky, steep, brushy terrain. The fire
spared the historic St. Mary's Mission and the Paschal Sherman Indian
School near Omak Lake, spokesman Joe Murray said. Crews were hitting
the fire from the ground and from the air.
Maenwhile, the fire retardant base at Moses Lake, Wash., reported it
passed the 1 million gallon mark for the season. The base is one of
six in the Northwest where airplanes can be loaded with fire
retardant, a red, fertilizerlike substance that smothers wildfires.
Moses Lake loaded only 858,000 gallons of retardant all last year,
employee Gail Lambert said.
With another month or more left to go, this year's fire season has
become international news. At the Northwest coordinating center in
Portland, Widmark was fielding calls from as far away as France on
"We've got a lot of international interest now," Widmark said.
COMMENT BY POSTER: Anyone figure out how much these fires are
contributing to global warming yet? ("That's a joke, son, a joke." -
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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