LOCAL NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIERS HELP FIGHT MONUMENT FIRE

August 23, 2001 11:00 pm
Private First Class Nathan Alldredge of Cove checks the oil on a Humvee. Alldredge works as a Humvee driver at night. His shifts starts each day at 5:30 p.m. ().
Private First Class Nathan Alldredge of Cove checks the oil on a Humvee. Alldredge works as a Humvee driver at night. His shifts starts each day at 5:30 p.m. ().

They left their homes nearly a week ago to help with the Monument Complex fires burning more than 32,000 acres near this remote town. Their job is based on the flexibility of their vehicles: Humvees.

We transport the crew bosses to the fire line or to staging areas near the fire line, said Chris Warren of La Grande.

Warren is responsible for the 20 Humvees assigned to the fires. Those under him spend hours behind the wheel, negotiating newly built dusty or rocky roads.

Their Humvees can go where other vehicles cant, said Dave Wells, of the Oregon Department of Forestry, lead agency in the firefighting effort.

Humvee driver J.R. Barnes of La Grande had a substitute job while his Humvee was being repaired: He drove for Warren. His Humvee was ready for service Wednesday afternoon.

I like this job, Barnes said.

Nathan Alldredge of Cove, serving on his first fire, drives at night, leaving the base camp at 5:30 p.m.

I drive to the fire and sit and wait, he said. Im kind of enjoying this.

Warren, a newly commissioned lieutenant, spends most of his time in camp with organization and administration. His first time to the fire line came when he accompanied a group of reporters and photographers.

The mens days on the fire scene may be numbered, unless Wednesdays cooler temperatures and light showers give way to hot, dry conditions. Wednesdays weather brought hopes of an early return home.

CHINOOK HELICOPTERS WAGED AIR ATTACK ON FLAMES THAT THREATENED TINY COMMUNITY

Sparks flew up to the windows; the windshield fogged with steam; the radio crackled with the sound of many voices.

For four days, the helicopters flew back and forth from the fire surrounding the town of Monument to lakes and ponds, filling buckets with water to drop on the flames.

It was a most stressful time for all the pilots, said Pendletons Dave Long, who pilots a Chinook helicopter for the National Guard.

Pilots didnt want to waste any of the precious water they were dropping on the fire; they tried to hit where the black burned grass met the green living grass, a sometimes difficult chore.

Its hard to believe it really happened, said Longs co-pilot Brian Clyde.

The pilots were assigned a much easier task Wednesday, when they flew reporters and photographers to the National Guard fire camp on the Monument Complex of fires.

They basically saved the town, said Chris Warren, a National Guard lieutenant from La Grande, assigned to the Guards fire camp.

Three Chinooks from the National Guard participated in an armada of public and private helicopters that constantly dropped water on the fire that was creeping over a ridge around the tiny community. Thanks to the helicopter crews, no more than one structure was lost to the Monument Complex fires.

Clyde recalled dipping down onto a lake almost full of pleasure boats.

They got out of the way, he said.

Occasionally, the pilots could see the results of an individual water drop.

If you hit the target right, you can see the results right away, Clyde said.

STORIES BY ALICE PERRY LINKER

PHOTO BY PHIL BULLOCK

OF THE OBSERVER