Fire crews stretched to the limit
Tue., Aug. 1, 2006
BOISE – Federal land management agencies are being asked to make more employees available to fight wildfires because existing crews and equipment have been stretched to the limit by nearly 60 major blazes burning around the West.
For the first time since 2003, the National Interagency Fire Center raised its response status to the highest threat level over the weekend, a move triggered when nearly all available crews and firefighting resources were committed. Preparedness Level 5 allows federal firefighting coordinators to summon additional federal employees, military reinforcements and foreign fire crews if necessary.
“It’s a proactive move that kicks in the thinking about where the next round of resources is going to come from,” said Randy Eardley, U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman at the federal firefighting center headquartered here.
“It frees up what we call the militia, agency employees whose regular job may be as a biologist or realty specialist but who are trained in fire duty and can now be called up to help,” he said.
While military firefighting mobilization coordinators and a liaison for the Canadian government’s firefighters now can participate in national fire response planning, Eardley said there are no current plans to summon those reinforcements.
“Those are options that are on the table, but we’re looking ahead, and if the trend over the last couple of weeks were to continue, we probably would need additional resources,” he said Monday.
More than 24,000 firefighters were battling fires across the West on Monday, including 58 fires of 500 acres or more. The nation’s biggest fire was the Winters fire in northern Nevada, which had burned nearly 300 square miles of grass and sagebrush.
A wildfire that had been threatening the rural community of Stehekin calmed down and no longer was considered a danger to the town, fire officials said Monday.
Firefighters used explosives to build a containment line to the north of the Flick Creek fire on Sunday, said Terry Kanupp, a spokeswoman for the Chelan Ranger District of the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests.
The fire has burned an estimated 3,500 acres, or more than five square miles, in steep terrain on the east shore of central Washington’s Lake Chelan. Stehekin is at the lake’s northern tip, reachable only by boat, horse, seaplane or on foot.
About 680 firefighters continued to battle the Tripod and Spur Peak fires, which together have burned more than 45 square miles northeast of Winthrop in north-central Washington.
The fires were burning about five miles southwest of the tourist town of Conconully.
The flames had been advancing on the town fairly steadily until the weekend, but on Monday, they were staying in one spot where firefighters were gaining confidence they could contain them, fire information officer Jim Archambeault said.
About 40 miles northeast of Entiat, the Tinpan fire has burned more than five square miles of subalpine trees since it was started July 7 by lightning. The fire was not contained Monday.
The 250-acre Bear Gulch fire between Lake Cushman and the southwest face of Mount Rose in the Olympic National Forest was 30 percent contained.
A five-square-mile wildfire in the central Idaho mountains continued to char bug-killed stands of subalpine fir and lodgepole pine Monday as it raced toward a cluster of vacation homes and a rustic mining museum about 1 1/2 miles away.
At least nine homes were evacuated as the erratic Potato fire moved east toward several scattered buildings along Yankee Fork Road about seven miles north of Stanley, said Gail Baer, a spokeswoman for the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
Sheriff’s deputies closed the road and removed all residents. All homes in the area remain empty, said Deb Webb, chief dispatcher with the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.
Lightning sparked the blaze on Friday; it has grown to 3,180 acres.
About 200 firefighters from several agencies were battling the blaze, with aerial crews dumping water and retardant on the fire’s aggressive eastern edge.
Firefighters gained the upper-hand Monday on what is now a 1.3-square-mile wildfire in the Boise National Forest about eight miles north of Warm Lake.
The Burnt fire grew by only 50 acres Monday. The fire continued to creep in a northeasterly direction, but crews were able to cut a flank on its western edge.
Additional firefighters, equipment and aircraft arrived near St. Mary on Monday as crews fought to corral a fire that blew up rapidly in Glacier National Park over the weekend, fanned by strong winds.
Firefighters got a bit of a relief Monday with calmer winds and cooler temperatures. Officials said the Red Eagle fire – estimated at more than 22,000 acres or 34 square miles – was 10 percent contained Monday night.
Many structures were still considered threatened, however, including 87 residential properties, 90 commercial properties and 39 outbuildings, information officer Pat McKelvey said. Still, no structures were lost and no injuries were reported Monday.
Crews were concentrating firefighting efforts to keep the blaze from progressing closer to the small town of St. Mary. The fire came within a mile of structures in the town over the weekend, and the Glacier County sheriff’s office urged residents in the area to evacuate. McKelvey said at least 70 residents had left.
South of Livingston, the Big Creek fire destroyed three houses and at least three other buildings Sunday, as it nearly quadrupled in size after making significant runs, an information officer said.
Authorities warned residents of about 50 homes in the area to be prepared to evacuate if necessary, information officer Marilyn Krause said Monday.
The fire was estimated at 12,000 to 15,000 acres Monday, Van Nurden said.
Glacier National Park officials said that despite the blaze there, most of the park remains open to visitors.
Going-to-the-Sun Road in the park is open from the west entrance to Rising Sun, where visitors are being asked to turn around.
Residents of a central Oregon subdivision were allowed to return home late Monday as crews tamed the threat from the Black Crater wildfire.
The 1,000 residents of the Tollgate subdivision had been ordered to leave on Saturday. But cooler temperatures and weaker winds have aided firefighters in their battle against the lightning-sparked fire that started July 23.
However, evacuation orders remained in effect for 500 residents living in a pair of subdivisions west of Sisters.
Scott Brayton, a fire spokesman, said it’s unclear when they will be allowed to return. But he said the subdivisions appear to be protected from the 9,000-acre fire that is 30 percent contained.
Over the weekend, firefighters burned a buffer zone to deprive the fire of fuel.
The weather also aided firefighters in other parts of the state Monday. On the 48,000-acre Foster Gulch range fire near the Idaho border, fire spokesman Don Ferguson said, overcast skies and a lack of gusty winds were a great help.
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