(Long) Crews make gains as large fires merge

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Sun Jul 21 23:37:25 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, July 21, 2002, p A19

Crews make gains as large fires merge
Two blazes become one in Southern Oregon, and a Washington fire
emerges as the Northwest's top priority

	SILVER LAKE - Massive wildfires continued to burn Saturday in Oregon,
yet firefighters made steady progress on the 57,000-acre Tool Box
complex and the 30,000-acre Winter fire, which were burning close
together in the southern part of the state.
	"Things are looking pretty good," said John Zapell, fire information
officer for the Tool Box complex, which joined the Winter fire in a
small area to the north Saturday. The two large fires are burning in
an unpopulated area of state-protected land and the Fremont National
	But even as those fires came under control, two others - one near
Lake Chelan in Washington and another in Southeastern Oregon, north of
Steens Mountain - drew firefighters attention.
	Dubbed the Sheep Rock fire, the new blaze in Southeastern Oregon was
reported around 6 p.m. Saturday, said Marc Hollen, spokesman for the
Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which is tracking 16 major
blazes in Oregon, more than in any other state.
	Air tankers - both large fixed-wing and crop-duster-like planes
called SEATS (single engine air tanker) - were dispatched to drop fire
retardant on the blaze, which had reportedly burned as much as 500
	The fixed-wing aerial tankers were cleared to fly Saturday after
Federal Aviation Administration officials grounded the nation's fleet
Friday following the crash of a firefighting plane in Colorado.
	A fast-moving fire two miles north of Manson, a town on Lake Chelan
in north-central Washington, became the No. 1 firefighting priority in
the Northwest on Saturday, jumping from 10,000 acres at noon to about
16,900 acres Saturday afternoon and threatening homes. A mandatory
evacuation of 275 homes in the area was ordered, and a number of the
tankers being used to fight fires in Oregon were diverted to assist
with the blaze.
	"Chelan is a fairly good-sized town, and we are talking about a fair
number of people if the fire gets nasty," Hollen said.
	The fire, which began Monday, was about 10 percent contained by
Saturday. Investigators think the source was an abandoned campfire.
Four outbuildings, including a garage and a barn, were reported
destroyed late Friday and Saturday, but no homes were lost. An
abandoned homestead and a garage burned earlier in the week.
	In Oregon, the total number of burning acres grew by about 20,000
between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, but Hollen said that
wasn't an unusual pace considering the fire had already topped 214,000
acres. It was unclear how long it would take to gain the upper hand.
	As of Saturday afternoon, more than 7,500 firefighters were battling
fires in Central, Southern and Eastern Oregon, with crews making
particularly strong headway against the 22,274-acre Eyerely fire, 15
miles north of Camp Sherman where 18 homes burned July 13. It was 65
percent contained.
	On Monday, 250 National Guardsmen are expected to arrive in Paisley
and help with the Winter fire.
	Gov. John Kitzhaber is scheduled to visit a fire camp Monday in
Paisley, where hundreds of firefighters are based as they continue
efforts to contain four large blazes. Kitzhaber is to visit the Squire
Peak fire in Jackson County on Monday morning, then fly to Paisley in
the afternoon.

Help from the weather
	"We were really blessed yesterday with the weather," Hollen said
Saturday. "We had higher temperatures, but we also had higher
humidity, which makes it harder for combustibles to burn."
	The Squiare Peak fire, two miles east of Ruch, a small town southeast
of Grants pass, went from 65 percent contained to 95 percent contained
Friday night, at which point evacuated residents were allowed to
return to their homes. The fire had threatened more than 200 homes
just three days ago. Preventive work by fire managers before this fire
season helped control the blaze, Hollen said.
	On Thursday and Friday nights, crews working the Winter fire set
blazes - called "burnouts" - between the wildfire and Oregon 31 in an
effort to burn combustible materials before they could feed the larger
fire. Hollen deemed those efforts "very successful," saying they had
left 65 threatened homes in two small subdivisions "fairly secure."
	Earlier, residents of one of those subdivisions on Ana Reservoir had
been asked to voluntarily evacuate, but most were staying put as of a
couple of days ago, Hollen said.
	Two Chinook helicopters continued to douse hot spots above the
subdivision to check the Winter fire, which continued to burn on steep
terrain north of Paisley. The 31 homes that are spread along a flat
valley below the steep hillsides were out of immediate danger, said
Chris Friend, an Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman.
	Zapell, fire information officer for the Tool Box complex, said fire
crews benefited from calm winds that allowed in bulldozer and hand
crews. The Tool Box and Winter fires were, respectively, 15 and 35
percent contained.
	As air tankers bombed the complex with retardant, deep inside the
fire lines tree fallers Terry Roseberry of Gilchrist and his partner
Dell Thomas, began the process of rehabilitating the forest.
	Using a large chain saw, Roseberry cut down several 100-foot-plus
ponderosa pine trees in about 20 minutes.
	"It will be a long time before the remaining trees get this big,"
said Roseburry, his face blackened with soot.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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