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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow FIRES BEAR DOWN ON REMOTE TOWNS



FUELING UP: Jared Nelson, left, of Minden, Nev., and Jimmy Burgess of La Grande prepare an air tanker plane for another trip to the Ukiah area fires Thursday afternoon. Air traffic in and out of the U.S. Forest Service air tanker base at the Union County Airport was steady all day Thursday. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
FUELING UP: Jared Nelson, left, of Minden, Nev., and Jimmy Burgess of La Grande prepare an air tanker plane for another trip to the Ukiah area fires Thursday afternoon. Air traffic in and out of the U.S. Forest Service air tanker base at the Union County Airport was steady all day Thursday. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

MONUMENT (AP) A battalion of Marines and another of U.S. Army troops will join more than 21,000 firefighters, who face rough terrain and rattlesnakes as they battle wildfires burning a half-million acres across the West.

In Eastern Oregon, two separate fires encroached on three tiny towns within 30 miles of each other Monument, Dale and Ukiah.

About 50 Monument residents gathered for a town meeting Thursday night to learn more about the 12,000-acre fire raging out of control at their doorstep.

Posing a question on the minds of all of Monuments residents, 79-year-old Betty Maynard asked may we safely assume theres no danger tonight?

You are not in imminent danger. We are not there yet, replied Jim Ziobro, a team leader of the fire crews battling the wildfire that had flanked Monument.

But residents were told to brace for a possible evacuation if a cold front that will be moving in kicks up winds that would fan the flames.

I hope we dont have to ask for an evacuation, Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer told the crowd.

More than 700 firefighters had managed to hold off the flames outside Monument, even as erratic winds occasionally whipped them into small tornados of fire.

Were doing OK for now, said firefighter Andy Parker, who was covered with soot and sweat as he took a break on the fire line outside town. But that can change in a minute.

Clyde Zoeller, a spokesman at the firefighters command post, said they were coping with harsh terrain and the danger of dehydration as they stood between the flames and the town of 27 homes.

Weve had problems with rattlesnakes and rocks rolling down the hill, he said. Youre losing water by the second. You cant drink enough water.

The Bridge Creek fire outside Ukiah, 40 miles south of Pendleton in northeastern Oregon, had nearly doubled in size to 6,200 acres, closing U.S. Highway 395.

Ukiahs town center was not immediately threatened, but 10 residences along the main road into town had to be evacuated, fire officials said.

Some residents in Dale, about 10 miles south of Ukiah, had loaded their cars and trucks with family belongings in case they are ordered to leave their homes.

Outside Monument, about 20 miles west of Dale, a separate fire was burning. Firefighters hoped helicopter water drops and the North Fork of the John Day River would keep that wildfire out of town while residents stood ready to fight or flee.

Gus Peterson, 79, spent a sleepless night on the fire line outside Monument operating his own makeshift fire truck, a red pickup with a 200-gallon tank of water and a coiled hose.

I was driving the rig, working on spot fires, Peterson said as bulldozers scraped away vegetation that could serve as fuel. The whole community is helping.

Wildfires were burning across more than a half-million acres in 10 drought-parched Western states. The National Interagency Fire Center said 21,000 firefighters were fighting 42 major fires. Oregon accounted for more than half of that, with 11 fires burning 270,000 acres.

Since Saturday, the West has seen 2,233 new fires, including the major fires still active on Thursday, burn 641,410 acres, the center said.

One battalion of Marines and another of U.S. Army troops are being deployed to Northwest wildfires because firefighting resources are stretched thin, said George Lennon, a spokesman at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

A battalion has between 400 and 600 soldiers. The troops from Fort Lewis, Wash. and Camp Lejeune, N.C. are expected to arrive within seven days after they receive training at their bases, Lennon said.

In southern Oregon, the 5,600-acre Quartz fire continued to burn on the Rogue River National Forest in the Siskiyou Mountains, about 10 miles west of Ashland.

In Crater Lake National Park about 70 firefighters battled a 60-acre blaze fire Thursday that was about a mile and a half from Boundary Springs, the source of the Rogue River.

In Nevada, the Buffalo complex burned 74,000 acres near the town of Midas, where two strike teams with engines were stationed to protect the community.

Northern Californias largest blaze, the Observation fire 50 miles north of Susanville, was contained at 67,700 acres and some of the 900 firefighters were being demobilized for much-needed rest.


IMNAHA The Horse Creek Fire on ridges about five miles northeast of Imnaha had grown to 3,400 acres by 5 p.m. Thursday, with 100 firefighters battling the blaze. It was reported at 1,000 acres on Wednesday.

The fire, on the edge of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area on ridges between the Imnaha River and Horse Creek, burns erratically. It runs down the ridges, then hooks into brush and races back up the ridges through brush and timber, said Dave Quinn, manager of the interagency fire center in La Grande.

Quinn said management of the fire has been taken over by a Type 1 crew from Alaska headed by Joe Stam. Also on the fire are five other crews, including the Type 1 Union Hotshots. Other resources include several engines as well as support from helicopters and fixed-wing planes dropping retardant.

There are structures in the area, mainly in the low-lying area not on the ridgetops.

They are of concern, but none are threatened, Quinn said.

The fire is being managed from a camp set up at Memaloose, near Hat Point and south of the fire. That includes a small landing strip.

The only new fire reported today in the Wallowa, Union and Baker county area was a small spot fire which ignited about 15 acres Thursday afternoon, fire officials said.


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