Fire season far from over
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Tue Aug 21 00:57:44 EST 2001
>From The Oregonian, Aug. 18, 2001, p A1
Fire season far from over
The existing blazes will probably take weeks to quench; more may erupt
By JONATHAN BRINCKMAN, The Oregonian
Inside the nerve center of the Northwest's firefighting campaign, a
large wall map plots the 20 major wildfires raging over Oregon and
Like a pegboard, the map holds small rectangular lights that tell the
story of a massive battle waged across the timber and grasslands of
the Northwest. White lights are hot shot firefighting crews, orange
lights are helicopters, red are aerial tankers, green are planes that
guide the tankers to the fire.
If the lights are flashing, the battle is engaged.
On Friday, it seemed the whole wall was flashing.
In front of the map, a circle of workers fielded calls from fire
commanders pleading for more firefighters and equipment. With huge
fires blazing in eight Western states, there wasn't enough to go
"We know what to do to fight those fires," said Mike Lowry,
operations manager of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
"It's just that we can't get the resources."
In the eighth day of a full-scale fire emergency in the Northwest,
the mood was determined. From a brick complex at the Portland
International Airport, the coordination center marshals the forces of
five federal agencies and the states of Oregon and Washington. Lowry
and his staff decide which incident commanders get more personnel and
equipment to fight their fires - and which don't.
Twelve major fires were burning 269,000 acres in Oregon. An
additional 73,000 acres were burning in Washington. Throughout the
West, nearly 23,000 firefighters battled 33 major fires on more than
584,000 acres, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said
Temperatures were dropping, as predicted, but fierce winds kicked up
Friday afternoon, making firefighting more difficult.
"This fire season is a long way from being over," said Lowry. "Just
to deal with what we've got going on now will be two weeks minimum."
Forecasters say there is a possibility of rain in the middle of next
week. That would help firefighters across the two states control the
blazes. But Lowry said he would not be surprised by another round of
dry lightning this month. With the region left tinder-dry by a
near-record drought, forests and grass-lands are primed for fire.
Some good news came Friday. Firefighters were getting the upper hand
on the huge Lakeview Complex in Southern Oregon and in the Crane
Complex in Central Oregon. That meant that some firefighters and
equipment could soon be freed for use elsewhere.
Also, reinforcements arrived, in the form of 10 more firefighting
crews, three from Puerto Rico. And the Canadian government sent 15
large helicopters from British Columbia.
"Things are starting to trickle in," said Mike Arasim, the Northwest
center's assistant emergency manager.
Still, it was not enough. On Friday morning, the center put out a
national request for 47 more hot shot crews, 131 additional
firefighting crews and 50 large choppers.
A special federal and state team, called the Multi-Agency
Coordinating group, or MAC, has convened in Portland to help the
Northwest center decide how to prioritize resources. Every morning,
that group - made up of top fire officials from five federal agencies
and the two Northwest states - ranks the region's largest fires.
Their main concerns are fires that could kill people, destroy houses
and communities, or harm significant cultural and natural resources.
Based on those criteria, the Icicle Complex, threatening 1,900 homes
in Leavenworth, Wash., was the region's top priority fire. Although
Oregon has the largest fires, six of Washington's eight major fires
were in the top 10 on the priority list.
Oregon's highest-priority fire was the Monument Complex in
northeastern Oregon, whih was nearing the small communities of
Monument, Dale and Ukiah.
"We are acutely aware of the importance and gravity of the decisions
we make," said Gary Larsen, supervisor of Mount Hood National Forest
and leader of the MAC. "What we're doing is making decisions in the
best collective interest of society."
Outside Monument, fire crews stripped flaming bark from trees and
buried smoldering sagebrush Friday as the fire crept within a few
miles of homes after doubling in size overnight. Fire officials had
feared a gusty cold front would send the 21,000-acre fire racing
But by Friday evening, they were more optimistic.
Hope for Monument
"At this point, it looks unlikely that we will need an evacuation of
Monument," fire spokesman Clyde Zeller said. "The winds are giving us
a break. It's erratic but not as strong as I thought."
The Bridge Creek fire, north of Monument, had grown to 9,000 acres by
Friday evening but was 75 percent contained. The Lakeview Complex in
Southern Oregon was at 127,552 acres and 95 percent contained.
Near Ashland, 300 Oregon National Guard troops and 160 firefighters
from New Hampshire, Massachussetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey
and Maryland arrived at the Quartz fire, the region's 10th-ranked
fire. That brought the total number of firefighters battling the
5,800-acre fire to more than 2,000.
A week after the start of the lightning-sparked blaze, wildland
firefighters braced for wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour Friday
and today. With the completion of fire lines on the blaze's east and
west flanks, officials prepared to move their attack toward the head
of the fire, which is burning slowly southeast toward the California
Meanwhile, 50 firefighters attacked a 60-acre wildfire that flared up
in the northeast corner of Crater Lake National Park. Officials said
the Boarder fire threatened no structures but was burning within a
mile and a half of Boundary Springs, the source of the Rogue River.
The fire apparently was sparked by a lightning strike Sunday that
smoldered until erupting into a visible fire on Thursday, officials
Winds still worries
In Washington, a military helicopter was dispatched Friday to ferry
five hikers out of a wilderness area near Leavenworth, which was
threatened by the 4,000-acre Icicle Complex fire.
A "red-flag" warning had been issued, meaning that firefighters
expect sustained winds of more than 20 mph Friday. That could breathe
new life into the fires.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Greg Thayer said the hikers had been in
the Granite Mountain area near the crest of the Cascade Range since
"With a red flag warning, we have to get them out of these now,"
The largest blaze in Washington was the 39,500-acre Virginia Lake
complex of fires in grass and sagebrush south of Okanogan, about 75
miles northeast of Leavenworth. The size was revised down from 46,500
acres after better mapping, said Brian Van Camp, an information
officer for the interagency fire management team handling the blaze.
On Monday, the fire burned at least six homes and possibly as many as
Eight miles northwest of the Virginia Lake fire, and considered part
of the same complex, the St. Mary's fire had grown to 7,200 acres by
Friday morning. Seventy homes were ordered evacuated in the Haley
Creek area, Van Camp said.
Late Friday, a new flare-up was added to the list of the Northwest's
largest wildfires. At 10 p.m., officials at the Northwest Interagency
Coordination Center were still trying to find out the fire's exact
acreage even as they scrambled to send reinforcements to fight it.
The blaze is one of two consuming dry timber on the Colville National
Forest in northeastern Washington. On Friday evening, 30 homes and 50
other buildings were threatened by the 2,500-acre Mount Loena Complex
fire on the edge of the forest. At one point, a strong shift in wind
caused the fire to become erratic and forced firefighters to pull
In Nevada, a complex of fires burned on 74,000 acres near the town of
Midas, where two strike teams with engines were stationed to protect
Northern California's largest blaze, a fire 50 miles north of
Susanville, was contained at 67,700 acres, and some of the 900
firefighters were getting much-needed rest.
Large wildfires also were burning in Idaho, Montana, Texas and
COMMENT FROM POSTER: For those of you who read this ng and wonder
where everyone has gone...
It's ironic: every state has some special weather problems. North
Dakota has severe winters; tornadoes terrorize Oklahoma; hurricanes
hurdle Florida. In the PNW we sometimes have all of these (except
hurricanes are called cyclones in the Pacific. In addition, we have
little things called fire storms. If you've never heard of these, be
thankful...be very thankful.
Guess we're going to have to chance the Bush legacy. It will now read:
the Burning Bush legacy. Yeah, I know the problems were here long
before shrub jr. got here. And he's got a good idea in weeding out
some of the shrub(by) undergrowth. But the bottom line is nothing he
has done, said, or plans to do will actually impact any of the fire
danger currently in the PNW. As more people decide to move into this
beautiful area, more people come in direct contact with nature and
wildfire. Expect to hear more.
In the meantime, some of us not already on the fire lines are trying
to abate future wildfires by pruning the dense plantations already in
existence. Consider all you timber cruisers: a 400-500 tree/per/acre
plantation, 50-70 feet tall, with 8-14 inch dba trees adds up to _a
lot_ of biomass, also known as fire fodder.
Daniel B. Wheeler
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