GRAYBACK CREWS STAY PUT

June 24, 2002 11:00 pm

Grayback crews fighting the Hayman fire are returning to their stations in Oregon today. Only one crew remained in Colorado this morning.

Leslie Hebetler, a spokeswoman for Grayback, said that all other crews are being demobilized and are not available for other national wildfires. During fire season, Grayback hires as many as 450 firefighters and support personnel.

Twenty large fires were burning in nine states this morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Active large fires were reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and New Mexico.

Hebetler said she does not know when Grayback crews will again be mobilized, whether it will be weeks or months.

"We hope they'll be available (later)," Hebetler said. "We're not sending anyone out until they're emotionally ready."

Five Grayback firefighters were killed Friday afternoon when a van driven by Megan Helm, 21, of La Grande rolled about four times on Interstate 70 west of Denver. The latest victim is Bartholomew Bailey, 20, of Baker City who died Monday.

The crew of about 60 was driving from La Grande to the Hayman Fire south of Denver when the accident occurred near the small town of Parachute, Colo.

Earlier reports said the crew had stopped in Salt Lake City for the night, but Hebetler said she does not know exactly when or where they stopped. Grayback crews "take a six-hour break every so often," she said.

The crews stopped in Twin Falls, Idaho, she said, and maybe one more time. The

company is investigating, she said.

Grayback does not require drivers to have commercial driving licenses, unlike the Forest Service, which requires

commercial licensing for its drivers that transport groups of firefighters.

Helm, who was licensed to drive in Oregon, does not have a commercial driver's license, according to David House of the State Division of Motor Vehicles.

The State of Oregon requires that drivers of vehicles transporting 16 or more people have a commercial license.

"That's why so many vans are built for 15 passengers," House said.

Drivers of Forest Service vans must stop and rest after four hours behind the wheel, said La Grande District Ranger Kurt Wiedenmann.

"Rest does not mean sitting in the passenger seat. It means rest," he said Monday.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Grayback has a

good record with the Forest Service.

The more than 50 firefighters who were flown back to Northeast Oregon Saturday were to gather in La Grande this morning for a service and counseling session.

"We wanted to bring the families together," Hebetler said. "They need that."

— Alice Perry Linker