GUARD DOES MONUMENTAL MOP UP

August 22, 2001 11:00 pm
HOT SPOT: Oregon National Guard soldiers from Charlie Company, 1249th Engineering Battalion from Camp Rilea, near Warrenton, dig out a hot spot on the Monument Complex Fire Wednesday. From left are Ryan Sisley, Steve Anderson, Stephen Ward and Anthony Cox. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
HOT SPOT: Oregon National Guard soldiers from Charlie Company, 1249th Engineering Battalion from Camp Rilea, near Warrenton, dig out a hot spot on the Monument Complex Fire Wednesday. From left are Ryan Sisley, Steve Anderson, Stephen Ward and Anthony Cox. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

MONUMENT The soldiers sitting by the side of the road Wednesday afternoon were dirty and tired, but their day on the fire line was far from over.

Members of the Oregon National Guard, they had come from as far away as the Oregon Coast to help fight the 32,182-acre Monument Complex fires burning near the tiny hamlet of Monument, about 50 miles northwest of John Day.

Weve got another three hours, said Lt. Sean Torgerson of Warrenton.

The fires reached 99 percent containment by Wednesday night, a far cry from last week when the town of Monument was encircled by fire.

Torgersons men and the other National Guard crews have been assigned to mopping up, following the fire attack crews who have beaten the fire to the ground. They look for hot spots, small smoldering areas, and put them out.

Their job on the fire lines may soon be over. One crew supervisor said he hopes to begin releasing people by Friday. Light rain Wednesday gave the firefighters hope of containment.

Although the Guard members are not on the attack lines, their work is often hazardous and always strenuous. Some of the trees that are burning from the inside are felled, and the Guardsmen must buck them into shorter logs.

The men were preparing to lay cold trails through a recently burned area. They run their hands along a section of the forest and when they feel a warm spot, they put it out.

The members from the La Grande National Guard unit have a less physically demanding but equally important job in transportation.

Their Humvees can go where other vehicles cant, said Dave Wells, information officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

La Grande resident Chris Warren, a newly commissioned lieutenant, is in charge of the 20 Humvees assigned to the fire. The vehicles transport crew bosses from fire camp to the staging areas and the fire line, an hourlong drive over rocky roads and trails. Warren and his drivers arrived at the camp Saturday.

This is my first summer out (fighting fires), Warren said. I think its gone remarkably well.

Warren and the other Guardsmen are camped on a ranch near the John Day River, a few miles from the crowded base camp on the Monument School grounds. Although the camp is near the river, it sits on an open field, with no shade.

Firefighters are on the line 24-hours-a day, rotating in 12-hour shifts. Those who work all night find sleep elusive during the heat of the day.

Last night we walked eight hours on a lot of rocks, said Brian Williams of Portland as he sat at a table under a camp tent. We are extremely tired.

Williams and Jamie Longstreet of Canby came from the Woodburn Guard unit. Last year, they fought a fire near Ukiah.

This is a bigger fire; its more hilly, tougher terrain, Williams said. Weve been in the timber.

Even though hes not on the fire line, La Grandes Warren said he doesnt get bored.

Were happy to be here, he said. Im prepared to stay a couple of weeks.

Another La Grande resident, Sgt. J.R. Barnes, was given the temporary assignment of driving Warren while Barnes waited for his Humvee to be repaired.

Weve had one breakdown, and that was his Humvee, Warren said.

Barnes said he expected his vehicle to be repaired by Wednesday afternoon.

Like Warren, Barnes said he was glad to be at the fire camp.

The firefighters from the National Guard had also escaped any serious injuries as of Wednesday.

Weve had some blisters, one said.