FIREFIGHTERS attack wildfires that are threatening and destroying homes in Northwest

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RUCH, Ore. (AP) _ A helicopter swoops out of a narrow canyon, dumping load after load of water to douse the flames in the southwestern Oregon woods that are especially volatile after a year of drought.

Incident commander Greg Gilpin says he won't risk the lives of firefighters by putting them in the path of the fire, near the Rogue River National Forest on the California border.

``If I have to risk one firefighter's life, that fire can burn 100,000 acres _ I don't care,'' he said Tuesday.

From the air and on the ground, crews like Gilpin's are fighting nearly 300 wildfires across the West. The blazes have destroyed dozens of homes and threatened many more, but crews reported some progress Tuesday.

Most fires were started by lightning strikes and spread quickly through parched land.

In Washington, a fire had burned about 27,000 acres on the Colville Indian Reservation, destroying six homes and threatening another 50, said Nick Mickel, a fire information officer.

Other homes and cabins in Washington were threatened by fires burning across thousands acres of grass, sagebrush and timber from the Cascade Range east to the Idaho border.

Officials closed off a seven-mile stretch of U.S. 97 in north-central Washington because a fire was burning toward the highway.

Four separate fires were burning in Northern California _ the largest on 62,900 acres east of Ravendale, near the Nevada border. It was 55 percent contained as of Tuesday night. Thirteen ranch homes were threatened by the fire as well as a major power line that provides power to the Reno area.

In Oregon, a wildfire raged within three miles of Monument, a town of about 150 people, prompting Gov. John Kitzhaber to declare a ``state of conflagration.'' The order means any agencies that sends firefighters and gear to fight the fire will be reimbursed by the state.

A fire burning near Ukiah, just northeast of Monument, grew to about 5,500 acres by Tuesday night.

``It's looking really grave in terms of fire danger,'' Gilpin said. ``This is probably only the first major fire in southern Oregon this year. We're going to have more.''

Task force leader Joe Linn watched and listened to radio traffic Tuesday as the helicopters buzzed over a 5,100-acre fire in southern Oregon.

Crews had managed to dig a tenuous fire line around a 40-acre spot fire that has been smoldering since Friday in dense timber near the main blaze. Linn was thankful firefighters were able to accomplish what they did.

``With these dry conditions, if they merged together the fire would be so large it would be difficult to control,'' said Linn, a tree geneticist on the Umpqua National Forest when he isn't fighting fire. ``We can't get in front of the (main) fire for direct attack.''