Fires already burn 100,000-plus acres in OR this month

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Thu Jul 18 22:15:43 EST 2002


>From The Oregonian, July 16, 2002, p A1

100,000-plus acres burning
There is some indication fire crews have gained the upper hand

By ALEX PULASKI, RICHARD COCKLE and STEVE LUNDGREN, The Oregonian
	MADRAS - Wildfires in Southern, Eastern and Central Oregon had
blackened more than 100,000 acres by Monday evening, leaving several
communitiies wary even as one felt the worst may have passed.
	Although officials on the Eyerly fire near Madras think that weather
conditions have helped them gain the upper hand, at least six other
lightning-sparked fires in Southern and Eastern Oregon were burning
strongly and with the potential to threaten structures.
	The supply of fire crews and air support is being stretched thin. The
Eyerly fire, which burned 18 homes in the Three Rivers area during the
weekend, had 981 firefighters assigned to it.
	The 5,800-acre Malheur Complex fire near John Day and Prairie City
was threatening homes and had 548 firefighters assigned to it. Crews
were making plans for possible evacuations of 50 homes and 10
businesses along U.S. 26.
	Althouth the state boasts more contract firefighters than any other -
about 4,000 - the run of fires, coupled with demands for crews in
other states, means that some wildfires aren't getting the resources
they need.
	The lightning-caused, 17,300-acre Monument Rock fire just south of
Unity in Baker County had 58 firefighters assigned toit. They were
getting no help from air tankers or helicopters, also in short supply.
	"It's frustrating," said Don Ferguson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau
of Land Management, as he studied a map of the blaze. "In a couple of
days, we're either going to have a whole lot of firefighters or a
whole lot of fire."
	The Monument Rock fire erupted Friday and made big runs during the
weekend, dpushed by 108-degree heat and erratic winds.
	On the Oregon-Idaho border, the 46,000-acre Trimbly Creek fire was
being fought by 54 firefighters. That wind-driven fire grew by 26,000
acres Sunday and was burning in grass and sagebrush on both sides of
the border, said Jeree Mills, spokeswoman for the Northwest
Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
	Firefighters evacuated the Succor Creek campground on Lake Owyhee,
several ranches near Succor Creek and a home southwest of Homedale,
Idaho, she said.
	Also lightly staffed was the 100-acre Basque fire, 18 miles south of
Burns Junction, which prompted the evacuation of a ranch. And crews
were scarce on the 10,00-acre Mahogany Mounain fire, 15 miles
northwest of Jordan Valley.
	Some fires, especially those that threatened structures, had many
more firefighters assigned to them.
	In Southern Oregon, 800 firefighters backed by two tankers and two
helicopters battled the 800-acre Squire fire two miles southeast of
Ruch, sparked by Lightening just 3.5 miles from the spot where
lightning ignited last August's 6,160-acre Quartz fire. Although no
homes are threatened, Oregon Department of Forestry officials said
containment lines may not hold and that the wildfire is in a rural
area scattered with isolated homes.
	Firefighters held the Neil Rock fire in Sam's Valley north of Centar
Point to 160 acres, and officials said 30 homes in the Trunesian Woods
subdivision face a diminishing threat.
	With so many fires burning at home, only 2,800 firefighters were
available in Oregon, Washington and the northern corner of Idaho, said
Marc Hollen, with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
	"Like any other resource, there is scarcity," said Hollen. "It
doesn't matter if we are talking money, water or food. In this case,
we are talking firefighters."
	He said the crash of one C-130A air tanker last month in California
and the grounding of five others for inspections of their wings have
pared the tanker fleet.
	Meanwhile, the potential for more dry lightning in the bottom third
of the state Monday, combined with the region's dryness, has fire
managers alaramed.
	"It's as dry as it gets," said Ferguson. "We're drier, literally,
than kiln-dried lumber."
	The Eyerly fire near Madras has burned 17,300 acres sinc eits
discovery July 9, and was declared 35 percent contained.
	Residents were allowed to return to their homes Monday.	
	Larry Penrod went back to find charred grass within 1 foot of his
150-gallon propane tank next to his home. Only the frame and axle
remained of a utility trailer a few feet away. But his mobile home was
unscathed.
	"I'm saying I'm Lucky Larry - very Lucky Larry," Penrod said,
"Because you can see the devastation around here."
	Many found similar mixed results when they returned to their houses.
Karen and Larry Schubert's home overlooking Lake Billy Chinook
survived with minor damage. But a pole building was leveled between
the house and an undamaged outbuilding.
	Karen Schubert returned to find a card from members of Tualatin
Valley Fire & Rescue on her door. Member sof that crew, one of several
municipal departments pressed into action under the statewide
conflagration act, had made a stand at the Schuberts' home and saved
it.
	John Jackson, the Eyerly fire's incident commander, told about 200
fire supervisors who assembled for a 6 a.m. briefing Monday that
significant progress had been made the day and night before. Afternoon
temperatures had dropped from more than 100 degrees to the mid-80s
Sunday, preventing the fire from making the long runs it had made the
three previous days. Monday temperatures reached highs in the mid-90s.
	"We're turning the corner on this in a lot of ways," Jackson said.
	Much of MOnday's firefighting was concentrated on the western flanks,
where the fire ripped through brush and timber in steep terrain. No
homes were immediately in its path.
	North of the Metolius River, hand crews set back burns ahead of the
fire by midmorning, trying to corral it between ridge lines and the
river. As a morning inversion layer captured smoke like thick fog in
canyons, firefighters such as Mitch martin of Bend unrolled and
connected hoses to support the back burns and control lines cut by
bulldozers.
	Late Monday night, the Northwest interagency Coordination Center said
two new wildfires in Eastern Oregon were spreading toward residences
and could force evacuations thi morning. The 500-acre Geneva 2 blaze,
fire miles from the Eyerly fire, was reported at 9 p.m. and was
spreading quickly across the Crooked River National Grasslands. Six
miles north of Paulina near Sisters, a fire officials called "747" and
described as "extreme" had burned at least 100 acres.
	Other fires:
	- The Biscuit fire southwest of Cave Junction had burned 750 acres.
	- The Tool Box fire west of Summer Lake had burned about 7,355 acres
by Monday morning.
	- The 10,500-acre Pumphouse fire in the sagebrush hills of the Yakama
Nation reservation was the only major wildfire in Central and Eastern
Washington. Firefighters Monday had cleared a fire line around 90
percent of it. Fire officials said the fire was human-caused.

COMMENT BY POSTER: Much of the debris being burnt in the above
mentioned fires are small-diameter material. Another large amoung (how
much? don't know) is referenced to sagebrush lands and grasses,
involving few trees if any.

However, with the forestlands now burning, wouldn't it have made more
sense to chip at least a portion of this small-diameter burnt
material, compress them into wood pellets, and decrease our god-awful
importation of oil products? Wood pellets burn extremely clean, and
can produce electricity as easily as anything else. Of course, it is
our choice. Burn it in electrical plants with little air
pollution...or watch more homes (which probably shouldn't have been
sited where they exist anyway) burn. It has been estimated that
current fire-fighting efforts in OR alone cost upwards of $1 million
per day. The fire season is still young. It could last until October.
Aren't our national forests worth as much in preventative measures as
in putting out fires after the fact?

It seems to me this forest-management method is misplaced. Putting
$30-150 million into small-diameter woody debris removal would,
perhaps not cover that much acreage as really is necessary. But over
time, it would make a heck of a lot more sense.

What is currently being done is like a doctor treating symptoms
without treating the underlying disease. Such management is dangerous
and possibly untimately fatal to our forests. We may be loving them to
death.

Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com



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