Local Firefighters Battle Colorado Blazes

June 12, 2002 11:00 pm
Firefighters, including about 55 from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, are battling fires in Colorado. (Knight Ridder Tribune/Jerilee Bennett).
Firefighters, including about 55 from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, are battling fires in Colorado. (Knight Ridder Tribune/Jerilee Bennett).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Local firefighters are throwing their weight (and shovels and axes) behind the effort to stop the blazes raging in Colorado and several other states.

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has sent about 75 workers to other parts of the country, from Alaska to Arizona, said Dennis Winkler, the forest's assistant fire staff officer in charge of operations.

In addition, approximately 370 contract firefighters from Northeastern Oregon are away from home battling blazes, Winkler said.

He said local agencies can afford to lend firefighters to distant states because the fire danger in Northeastern Oregon is minimal, despite the dry spring.

"We're really not going to have much of a threat locally until after the first of July," Winkler said.

And even if a fire were to break out unexpectedly, "we have ample resources on the forest to deal with anything that might come up," he said.

In the meantime, Wallowa-Whitman firefighters are putting in plenty of hours on the fireline in preparation for whatever may happen in Northeastern Oregon this summer.

Both of the forest's 20-member Hot Shot crews, the special forces troops of the firefighting world, are in Colorado, Winkler said.

The La Grande Hot Shots are assigned to the largest of the blazes, the 90,000-acre Hayman fire that has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.

The Union Hot Shots are assigned to the Trinidad Complex, a group of blazes totaling about 31,000 acres.

Twelve Wallowa-Whitman workers are members of the Blue Mountain team, which helps coordinate firefighting efforts, Winkler said.

The Blue Mountain team is assigned to the 9,000-acre Missionary Ridge fire near Durango, Colo.

Another 17 Wallowa-Whitman employees are assigned to overhead teams on fires in Alaska and in the Southwest, Winkler said.

In addition, two of the Wallowa-Whitman's fire engine crews, each composed of three firefighters, are working either in New Mexico or Arizona, he said.

One of those engine crews is stationed at the Pine Ranger Station near Halfway, the other in Enterprise, Winkler said.

With the exception of the Hot Shots, the local firefighters should return home within a couple of weeks.

Winkler said most firefighters work away from home for no longer than 18 days, which includes two days for traveling to the fire, and another two days to get home.

Hot Shots, on the other hand, often take their mandatory two-day rest periods away from home, before being assigned to another blaze, Winkler said.