September 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Lakeview Fire Still Out Of Control Firefighter Injured Trying To Build Fire Line

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A firefighter was nailed in the chest by a rolling rock while helping hack out a fire line on the rugged, rocky edges of the Lakeview blaze Tuesday.

The country is so rough the injured man’s co-workers had to pack him out to a Forest Service road on a litter before an ambulance could reach him and take him Kootenai Medical Center. He is in stable condition, said Greg Hetzler of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

No other information was available on the man or the injury. This is the first accident in the 4-day-old fire that has blackened portions of 270 acres on the east side of Lake Pend Oreille. It is the worst fire in North Idaho this season and it is still out of control.

Two helicopters from California were added to the aerial bucket brigade Monday, including a Sikorsky Sky Crane capable of hauling 1,500 gallons of water per trip. There are now five choppers dipping water out of the lake and dumping their loads on the steep ridges where hot spots still smolder.

Well over 200,000 gallons of water were dumped on the fire Tuesday alone. Plans to evacuate a couple of hundred people from Lakeview and a few resorts were drafted and then dropped.

But there is no talk of containing the fire.

“No one has ventured a guess,” said Steve Johnson, of the U.S. Forest Service. Conditions are so dry that even the green trees are like tinder, he said.

The fire danger remains high to extreme. “Without a significant change in the weather, it could be a long time until the fire burns out,” Johnson said.

More than 300 firefighters from Montana and North Idaho are attempting to dig a break around two sides of the fire. They had two-tenths of a mile of fire line in as of Monday night. Two miles is the goal.

The lake will block the fire from moving to the northwest. The problem is putting a fire break on the southwest side of the blaze, where the country is too steep to safely put in a fire line by hand.

Firefighting strategists were meeting Tuesday night to try to figure out how to plow that southwestern line, Hetzler said.

Simultaneously, the Forest Service is worried about protecting portions of the nearby Gold Yeller timber sale, which is ready for market, as well as eagle roosting sites near Bernard Point and some stands of old growth timber.

Gold Creek and West Gold Creek, east of the fire, are prime habitat for threatened bull trout. So the Forest Service is trying to minimize damage to those areas, in part by restricting use of firefighting chemicals.

The fire started Saturday, allegedly by a juvenile playing with fireworks on the beach. The fire rapidly took off up a steep ridge.

A suspect apparently was identified by the Bonner County sheriff’s office. The investigation has been turned over to the Forest Service, which is not releasing any information about the individual.

If found guilty of starting the fire, the person could be liable for the costs of fighting the fire.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Map of area

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