Wildfire overruns crew

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Jul 26 11:45:27 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, July 25, 2002, p A1

Wildfire overruns crew
11 firefighters hurt in state's biggest blaze

By JEFF BARNARD, The Associated Press
	BEND (AP) - Flames overran a 20-person crew battling Oregon's biggest
wildfire, forcing them to deploy their emergency shelters. Eleven
firefighters were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation and
released from a hospital.
	They returned to fire camp at 3 a.m. today, said David Widmark,
spokesman for the Northwest Interagency Fire Coordination Center.
	The firefighters were members of a contract crew known as Ferguson 53
from somewhere in the Northwest, hired By The U.S. Forest Service to
fight the Tool Box and Winter fires, which have burned together to
cover more than 108,000 acres of sagebrush and timber in south-central
Oregon since they were ignited by lightning nearly two weeks ago, the
Forest Service said.
	The crew was fighting spot fires on the northern tip of the Winter
fire in Fremont National Forest timber near Picture Rock Pass, not far
from Oregon 31, said Mark Rounsaville, deputy area commander for the
Forest Service.
	Ten minutes after the firefighters took shelter, a contract
helicopter pilot making water drops began losing power and made an
emergency landing in front of the fire line, Rounsaville said. The
pilow walked away uninjured, but the helicopter remained on the
ground, a fire line and fire retardant protecting it from the advance
of the fire.
	Rounsaville said there appeared to be no obvious breakdown in
procedures or communications that would account for the need of the
firefighters to resort to what is generally regarded as a last-ditch
survival tactic.
	"It is serious," he said.
	An interagency investigation team has arrived and is gathering
information, said fire spokesman Louis Haynes.
	At St. Charles Medical Center, crew members declined to be
interviewed, but Haynes said they were all released to fire camp.
	The firefighters will not work today and will undergo special crisis
debriefing, Rounsaville said.
	Rounsaville said a division supervisor hd just checked the crew about
4 p.m., when the main fire made a run at the line. The firefighters
shook out the silvery foil shelters each carries in a pack on his belt
and crawled inside, laying face flat on the  dirt of the fire line.
	"The fire spotted across the line, then ran back at them from the
opposite side," he said. "They moved their shelters a couple of times,
maybe as many as three times. They weren't in the shelters a very long
time. A division supervisor let them out and brought them to camp."
	The Tool Box fire remained 40 percent contained late Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a new fire erupted overnight and grew to 1,600 acrs about
17 miles southeast of Chiloquin.
	The Skunk Fire was reported Wednesday afternoon as was threatening 25
homes, five businesses and 30 outbuildings in a subdivision of the
tiny town of Sprague River, said Kathy Fletcher, spokeswoman for the
Klamath Falls Interagency Fire Coordination Center.
	A voluntary evacuation order had been issued to the Klamath Falls
Estates, a 100-home, unincorporated subdivision of mobile homes,
cabins and vacation homes, said Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger.
	Twenty-seven people had decided to leave and were staying at the
Sprague River Community Center, said Donna Upson, director of the
Klamath/Lake chapter of the Red Cross.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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