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Firefighters Focus On Big Blazes after Controlling Most Smaller Ones

September 8, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Firefighters concentrated on 200 major forest fires still burning in the West and allowed more evacuees to return home Monday after containing hundreds of the blazes that had charred 1,000 square miles.

About 1,000 people in California were still being kept from their homes because of fire danger.

″We had enough of a break in the weather that we were able to contain some of the smaller fires and medium size fires. That enables us to shift some resources to those that are still uncontrolled,″ assistant regional forester Ken Clark from Sacramento, Calif., said Monday on ABC’s ″Good Morning America.″

″It’s still hot, dusty and dirty out there, but the winds aren’t as erratic,″ Clark said.

Crews in Idaho brought a 10,500-acre blaze in the awtooth National Forest under control Monday, allowing most of a 600-man force to be reassigned to the huge fires still out of control in California and Oregon. One Idaho fire was allowed to continue burning in extremely rough terrain and a small fire was burning in Washington.

About 22,000 firefighters have battled the blazes and 600 Army soldiers were added to fire crews in Oregon on Monday to take over some mop-up chores. Three firefighters had been killed in vehicle accidents in California since lightning began setting the woods afire on Aug. 28, and the Forest Service said 34 had been injured.

An estimated 496,800 acres had been charred by more than 1,000 fires in California as of Monday, and nearly 105,000 acres had gone up in smoke in Oregon.

Including about 30,000 acres that burned in Idaho, plus smaller fires in Washington, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, the total estimated burned area was about 636,000 acres.

Oregon officials estimated the loss at $317 million, mostly in timber resources, with state firefighting costs running up to $2 million a day.

In California, the damage estimate from just one fire, the 120,000-acre Paper Complex blaze in the Stanislaus National Forest, was $119 million.

California officials said Monday that about 5,000 people evacuated in Tuolumne County near the Paper Complex fire had been allowed to return to their homes. About 100 people from the county were kept out of their forest homes however along with another 900 scattered throughout the state. At the fires’ high point, state officials said a total of 15,000 had fled their homes. The last of 3,000 Oregon evacuees returned home Sunday.

″I was overjoyed,″ said Jack Reel of the village of Mi-Wuk. ″Nobody likes to be uprooted.″

″We should have a parade in downtown Sonora for the firefighters,″ said Emil Luque, who was allowed to return to his home in Sugar Pine with the worst of the crisis in California’s gold country declared over.

Lyn Bahten returned home to see her husband, Dave, for the first time since Tuesday night. He had stayed home to protect their house.

Bahten said he almost left when the fire got a half-mile away. ″I could hear the roar and feel the heat. We were watering down everything by flashlight,″ he said.

Others made unpleasant discoveries.

″I’m a gold miner up in that canyon,″ said Mark Lundquist. ″Everything’s burnt. I can’t even earn a living.″

Bob Daoust checked his summer cabin. ″It’s just gone. Just powder,″ he said. ″All the trees are gone, too. I feel like I’ve lost part of the family.″

The Paper Complex blaze, west of Yosemite National Park about 150 miles east of San Francisco, was about 35 percent contained by firebreaks. It had burned about 250 acres inside the park.

It was downgraded Monday from the firefighters’ top priority in the nation to the No. 4 concern in California, 10 days after it was touched off by lightning.

About 4,000 crew members remained at the fire despite the diminished threat to Tuolumne County towns and Yosemite. Others were moved northward to clusters of fires in the Shasta, Trinity, Mendocino and Klamath national forests.

The top focus was on eight fire clusters in the Shasta-Trinity area roughly 60 miles west of Redding and 220 miles north of San Francisco. About 1,000 additional firefighters were brought in Monday, and more than 3,000 were working to limit the burned area to the 59,000 acres already consumed.

California firefighters had contained 1,057 of the 1,252 fires that destroyed two dozen homes and 83 other structures, Dale Wierman said at the joint federal-state fire information center in Sacramento.

″The strategy up to this point has been to contain and take care of the hundreds of small fires that nearly have overwelmed us,″ said Mike Milosch at the same center. ″Now we can concentrate on the fewer big blazes that remain.″

Those included a 49,000-acre series of blazes in the Shasta-Trinity national forests, which was listed as the No. 1 priority, followed by two fires over 62,000-acre fire in Mendocino County, an 97,000-acre fire in Klamath, and the Paper Complex fire, which no longer threatened many settled areas.

‘We’re not out of the dark by any means,’ said Rich Aronson of the state Office of Emergency Services.

Oregon fire crews also were shifting gears, reassigning firefighters to two major fires in the Siskiyou National Forest.

The biggest was the 20,340-acre Silver Complex, which had been allowed to burn on its own because of firefighter shortages and it was in steep, rugged country and didn’t threaten any private property.

″It’s the steepest, most rugged, most difficult to access. Safety problems are exaggerated by the fact that firefighters are beat,″ said fire spokesman Ron DeHart.

The other big Oregon fire was the 10,500-acre Galice Complex, 25 to 30 percent contained, near the start of the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River. Whitewater rafters still were being allowed to run the river though the fire had come within two miles of their starting point.

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