(LONG) Crews fight back by setting defensive fires

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Aug 2 04:35:56 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, Aug 1, 2002, p A1 (Street Final)

Crews fight back by setting defensive fires
1,600 acres are burned to take away fuel from the 183,000-acre
Florence and Sour Biscuit fires near the Illinois Valley

	SELMA - Fire crews continued their counterattack on the Florence fire
this morning by burning the northern end of a 30-mile bulldozed fire
line that runs along U.S. 199 in the Illinois Valley.
	Bulldozer operators and hand crews had spent two days stitching
together the 30-mile line in the dirt, but until Wednesday night,
fickle winds had prevented them from setting their own fires to
protect the valley from the approximately 183,000-acre Florence and
Sour Biscuit fires.
	But as winds and temperatures subsided Wednesday night, hillsides
west of Selma began to glow with the newly set defensive fires
designed to halt the main fire's advance by robbing it of fuel.
	Overnight, fire crews burned approximately 1,600 acres along the fire
line, beginning at the north end near Selma, which is about 20 miles
southwest of Grants Pass.l Fire managers intend to burn up to 34,000
acres along the fire line - approximately the same acreage as the
smaller of the two wildfires threatening the valley.
	Anxious residents started showing up early this morning at
fire-information centers across the valley.
	"The smoke is coming in pretty good from the backburning operation
so, of course, everybody's nervous," said Gil Knight, a
fire-information officer.
	Today's backburns could move into the populated areas west of Eight
Dollar Mountain, where homes have been prepared with fire lines and
brush clearing. Firefighters will be standing by to defend any homes
threatened by fire.
	"In general, the structure-protection crews will be right in those
areas where the burnout is being accomplished," Knight said. "As needs
develop, they'll be ready to go into a specific property."
	The 17,000 residents of the Illinois Valley are under a 30-minute
evacuation alert, which means they have been asked to be ready to
leave as soon as they are notified, although emergency workers intend
to start the evacuation 12 to 24 hours ahead of the fire.
	By today,the Illinois Valley will be sprouting new yellow signs
spelling out in black: Escape Route. Oregon Department of
Transportation officials plan to make U.S. 199 one way with two anes
heading north, and Oregon State Police and National Guard troops will
be stationed at key intersections to allow traffic to enter from side
roads. No one will be allowed to return.
	The buffer against populated areas on the fire's east is the focus,
but fire behavior analyst Erik Christiansen cautioned Wednesday that
"the west side and the south side, we just don't have a handle on."
	The new elite fire management team slated to take over the west side
of the Florencne fire near the Rogue River by Sunday could have its
hands fulfl.
	"There could be some problems in Agness," said incident commander
Mike Lohrey, who noted that the blaze is burning within five miles of
Bear Camp Road. "We've got quite a cushion over there, and we are
assessing that today."
	Fire officials already have closed the popular backcountry route
between Grants Pass and Gold Beach to motor homes and trailers.
	"They will close it to all traffic if that threat continues," Lohrey
	From the air, the most visible fire activity for the past couple of
days has been plumes rising about seven miles west of Selma. The fire
was not as active Wednesday as it was during the weekend. But a
curtain of smoke hangs from htere south 25 miles to the California
border and beyond, obscuring much of the 180,000-acre Kalmiopsis
	"The wilderness is burning," Christiansen said. "We can't fight fire
in there. It's too rugged."
	Should the Florence fire reach Agness, the Biscuit complex blazes
will have torched portions of four of the nation's wild and scenic
river areas. The Flroence fire has already burned sections along the
Chetco and Illinois rivers in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, including
both sides of the river at the Illinois' famed white-water arpid,
Submarine Hole.
	The Sour Biscuit and Florence fires were still thought to be
separated by two to three miles Wednsday.
	"Every day, they say they're going to run together, but there's an
old burn there that keeps slowing it down," said John Fowler, planning
section chief on the Sour Biscuit fire.
	The SOur Biscuit fire has blackened areas along the Smith River in
California's Six Rivers National Forest.
	Sour Biscuit incident commander Paul Broyles said his crews would be
ready to burn out a safety line along their end of the 30-mile
"last-ditch" bulldozer line when similar work is complete on the
Florence fire to the north.
	"We'll have one, hopefuly, seamless east side," he said.
	Fire experts warned that successful backfires alone won't protect
threatened homes and communities because conditions still exist for a
return of plume-dominated fire that could shoot spot blazes two to
three miles ahead.
	"Just the fact s Maupin, 42, rang up snack foods and cold drinks for
the locals and swapped the latet tidbits about the fire. Maupin's son
brought her a gun so she could protect herself if order broke down
during an evacuation and people started looting. "I don't know what it
is. It's big," she said of the gun. "I can't even lift it."
	After years of following her husband from one military assignment to
another, the couple is ready to settle down in Selma. Maupin worried
about lsinvg what they've built here. "This is hom the fire jumping
lines by assessing and mapping homes and clearing away brush and trees
from residences.
	Ron Brood, 66, watched Wednesday as crews chain-sawed through
junipers, muggo pines and ponderosa behind his home southwest of
	"I thought if it was green it wouldn't be a problem," Brood said of
trees and brush in his yard.
	There's a special concern in Salma, which stands in the shadow of
Eight Dollar Mountain, that the fire could enter the valley there.
	"If it's going to come out, I'm predicting it's going to come out
there to the valley floor," said Tony Sciacca of the operations team
managing the Florence fire.
	As of Wednesday morning, the fire was creeping down slopes one to two
feet per minute, with 1- to 2-foot flames, but running up slopes at 70
to 80 feet per minute with 8-foot flames, said Christiansen, the fire
behavior analyst. The fire was still six miles from the valley
communities, but fire managers were wary because earlier this week the
fire was moving one mile an hour, covering eight miles on Sunday

Comment by poster: A 1600-acre backfire may seem like a lot. But
spreading that out over a 15-mile front (30 miles around the fire)
shows it is not that much. Hope the winds don't kick back up to send
it back over lines again.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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