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Defend Cascadia! Bring our troops home!

The national Guards of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California and Montana were for the defence of the homeland (Cascadia) not for imperialist wars for corporate profit (oil and opium). Its time all Cascadians proclaim our support of the women and men who were sent to wage illegal wars! Show our support by demanding them home and eventually by bringing those in the American political and corporate ranks to war trials! But for now we need out sisters and brothers home!
Fire season could hit close to home this year

By Hal Bernton

Seattle Times staff reporter

In any semblance of a normal winter, Oregon's Coast Range is a dank, green realm drenched by frequent rains. But on Monday, a mound of clear-cut slash that had smoldered through the winter suddenly came to life, burning through 35 acres southeast of Coos Bay.

Dozens of other small fires, some set to clear brush, have flared up in recent weeks, including 36 in Washington, in an early taste of what may be a tough fire season across the Pacific Northwest.

Fire officials hope for a cool, wet spring, but they warn that residents on the east and west slopes of the Cascades should be aware of the wildfire potential.

"People think of wildfires as these big, huge things that happen in Eastern Washington or California, and that you don't have a great loss of homes on the west side. We need to change that thinking," said Josie Williams, a spokeswoman for Eastside Fire & Rescue, which serves an area that includes Issaquah, North Bend and Sammamish.

Much of the vegetation that flourishes west of the Cascades is less adapted to drought than the plants that thrive in the drier eastern reaches of the Pacific Northwest. In years when moisture is scarce, the western brush may dry out more quickly, and stressed fir and cedar trees, for example, exude volatile resins, according to Mike Fitzpatrick, a federal fire official.

These forests burn much less frequently than those in Eastern Washington, yet blazes on the west side can be spectacular. "Once you get something going on the west side, you have almost unlimited fuel ... they can be some of the worst to fight," Fitzpatrick said.

The risks of this year's fire season prompted Gov. Christine Gregoire last week to issue a declaration that authorizes the call-up of the Washington National Guard to help fight fires. If needed, up to 500 men and women in the Guard are ready to join in the firefighting, according to Joe Shramek, a state Department of Natural Resources official.

But the state is hoping to avoid a bigger call-up of soldiers for firefighting duty. The Washington National Guard is just winding down its biggest mobilization since World War II. It sent more than 3,000 soldiers to Iraq for a year. The plan is to spare them as well as other units that might be called to active duty the added burden of firefighting, according to Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg.

Even without the Guard, a substantial firefighting labor pool will be available unless fires break out all at once across a wide region of the West.

Federal agencies deploy some of their own workers, including dozens of Hotshot crews that tackle some of the most difficult firefights.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has two 20-person fire crews that work on state or private forestlands. The department also uses 500 inmates picked by the state Department of Corrections. "We train them and use them very heavily on the west side as well as the east side," Shramek said.

But the biggest source of labor now comes from private contractors, most of whom are based in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1998, the number of privately employed firefighters has tripled to 298 20-person crews ready to respond to state and federal fire call-ups around the U.S.

The private-sector growth was stoked by a series of major fire years, when federal spending ballooned to more than $1 billion a year before dropping off to less than $800 million last year.

The quality of the private crews has varied dramatically from experienced, well-respected contractors to crews that have raised safety concerns. And government oversight has struggled to keep pace.

Thirteen firefighters hired by private contractors died in traffic accidents while traveling to and from fires in 2002 and 2003, and there were fears that others might perish in the woods.

"If we don't improve the quality and accountability of this program, we are going to kill a bunch of firefighters," wrote Joseph Ferguson, a U.S. Forest Service deputy incident commander, in a November 2002 memo.

Since 2003, the Oregon Department of Forestry, which oversees private contractors, has stepped up investigations with an expanded staff. During last year's fire season, these investigations found numerous violations, including crews with underage firefighters, according to Don Moritz, an Oregon Department of Forestry official. He also said some crews, when contacted about whether they could respond to fires within two hours, lied about their locations to get the extra assignments.

By the end of the 2004 fire season, 61 of the 298 private crews had their contracts terminated, or dropped out as investigations progressed, Moritz said.

This year, under a new system, the private outfits with the best performance and safety records will get the first call-ups to fight fires, Moritz said.

The scope and timing of these call-ups will likely be keyed to the arrival of dry lightning, which is the main ignition source for fires east of the Cascades. Intense lightning storms can spark dozens of fires within a few hours, and an absence of lightning even in a very dry year can make for a relatively calm fire season.

On the west side, dry lightning is a much less common event, and humans are the primary source of fires, according to state and federal fire officials. The big concern is a fire that might take hold in a forest and then race into housing developments that now climb up more and more Northwest hillsides.

Williams, of Eastside Fire & Rescue, is working to raise homeowner awareness about what can be done to reduce fire risks. Her department has encouraged homeowners to create a defensible space around houses that is free of the most volatile vegetation, and also to shift away from roofs made of cedar shakes, which can act like kindling.

Williams said Eastside Fire & Rescue already had a close call in August 2003, when a fire in the Carnation area threatened several hundred homes spread along the hillsides.

"We were just short of a state mobilization and were real fortunate that we didn't lose any homes," Williams said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or  hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company



Fewer troops free to battle wildfires

Published: March 17, 2005

By Alisa Weinstein

The Bulletin

Oregon National Guard troops and equipment will be available to help fight wildfires in Oregon this summer, but not to the degree that they have in the past.

With approximately 900 of Oregon's 8,200 Oregon National Guard soldiers and five Chinook helicopters deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer soldiers will be available to help should state and federal fire suppression resources become depleted, said Major Lance Englet, the Salem-based military officer responsible for state use of National Guard assets.

"Could we sustain that level of mobility now? I don't believe so, but the fact is that we do have the helicopters and personnel available and we've identified where the shortfalls are," Englet said.

"We're working with the other agencies to determine what we'll have in state and what we'll need to request from other states," he said.

National Guard troops are trained by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to dig fire lines and put out hot spots after fires have been extinguished. Troops also provide transportation and bucket-equipped helicopters that can douse fires with water or retardant.

From 2001 to 2003, 3,433 National Guard soldiers were deployed to fight fires in Oregon. During the same period, 594 citizen soldiers were deployed overseas, said Englet. This year, those numbers will be reversed.

The shortfall recently made national headlines when Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer asked Pentagon officials to rotate National Guard troops and equipment back to the West to fight fires this summer.

The dry winter has left potential fuels like cheatgrass, ponderosa pine and other vegetation at lower than normal moisture levels, increasing the chances of early and fast-moving fires.

So far, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has not echoed Schweitzer's plea, according to spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor. Governors have the power to declare a state of emergency and activate National Guard troops to fight fires or help in other disasters.

"We are taking into account that the National Guard, our front line on fire fighting, are deployed at higher rates than ever before, but we are starting to assess early because we don't want citizens to be alarmed," said Richter Taylor.

Oregon also has a reciprocity agreement for fire suppression resources with neighboring states, she said.

Agency officials closer to home said Oregon has ample resources to fight fires with or without the help of the National Guard.

"We plan for our fire seasons without depending on the National Guard resources," said ODF's Rod Nichols. "We know that they can be in military action, and so they're not always a certainty for us."

According to Nichols, the ODF is currently filling contracts for helicopters and heavy air tankers and recruiting seasonal fire fighters. The agency is not increasing the number of recruits to take the place of National Guard troops, said Nichols.

State and federal agencies will also contract with up to 300 20-person private firefighting crews, he said.

National Guard officials are still working to determine the number of troops and the equipment that will be available to fight fires this summer, Englet said.

According to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the National Guard has pledged the use of Fire Hawk helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters that have been adapted for firefighting capabilities.

Rick Dice, owner of PatRick, a Redmond-based private wildland fire service provider, said it is too early to tell whether the National Guard will even be needed in addition to approximately 40,000 agency and private-sector firefighting personnel who will work this fire season.

"If you throw all those people together in one state, that's quite a group of fire fighters," Dice said. "To jump right out there and say we need the National Guard back from Iraq, that's a crap shoot. We have no idea what the season is going to bring."

Alisa Weinstein can be reached at 541-504-2336 or at  aweinstein@bendbulletin.com.

Contact the Guvnah @ http://governor.oregon.gov/Gov/contact_us.shtml 22.Mar.2005 10:25

Nutmeg Alfredo