FOREST Service crewman killed in Washington wildfire remembered by friends, colleagues

Sunday, July 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROSLYN, Wash. (AP) _ Tom Craven's hearse was an antique fire truck and his funeral cortege Saturday was a string of pumpers, tankers and green Forest Service rigs.

The career Forest Service firefighter was among four crew members who died this week when a blaze exploded in the northern Cascade Range. It was the country's deadliest wildfire since 1994.

``By all standards, Tom Craven ranks at the top. He had the biggest heart and the biggest smile,'' Roger Krening, his former high school football coach, told 1,500 mourners at a memorial service.

Craven, 30, who was married and had a 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, began working for the Forest Service in 1990. He was assigned to the Wenatchee National Forest in 1993, and was a squad boss, in charge of a five-member crew.

The four victims were among 21 firefighters on mop-up duty Tuesday who were trapped in the blaze, which, stoked by high winds and high temperatures, exploded from 25 acres to 2,500 acres in less than three hours.

Memorial services are scheduled next week for Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18; Jessica Johnson, 19; and Devin A. Weaver, 21.

Late Saturday, the fire continued to burn, having consumed 9,200 acres and threatening to char at least 2,800 more in steep, rocky timbered terrain.

The fire was just 30 percent contained and authorities had no projected containment date.

Meanwhile, one other major wildfire in the state had been contained and a third was close to being brought under control.

Mop-up continued at the 3,200-acre fire near Grand Coulee in eastern Washington that was contained Thursday, and 300 firefighters were expected to be released over the weekend.

Crews hoped to contain a 3,800-acre in the Methow Valley in northcentral Washington by Sunday evening. Trails had been completed around nearly 90 percent of the burn area Saturday. Costs to battle that blaze alone were projected at $2.2 million.

Dozens of small fires were reported Saturday in the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, most sparked by overnight lightning. Several small fires threatened about 50 homes west of Spokane.

``We're set for another catastrophic fire season this year,'' said Melissa Archer, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Operations Center said.

The ongoing drought has created tinder-dry forests, now at increased risk due to summer heat, lightning, gusty winds and increased camping activity. The summer fire season, just beginning, can run into October.