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  1. #1
    Sr. Information Officer NJFFSA16's Avatar
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    Post Wildfire Businesses

    HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Amid the smoke and destruction of the
    annual Western wildfire season, small business owners find
    opportunity.
    Ray Christiaens is a caterer in the tiny Montana town of Kevin,
    and he worked all of last summer. He's expecting another busy
    season because "we've had five years of drought."
    Mike Byrnes said the profits he made last year enabled him to
    buy new equipment for his portable toilet rental business.
    "It's a great way to upgrade your fleet," he said.
    The annual fire season in the West has become big business for
    hundreds of companies, due in part to the growing number and
    ferocity of fires, but also due to changes in health and safety
    regulations and a federal push to put more work in private rather
    than government hands.
    Wildfires burned some 4 million acres in the United States last
    year, and the U.S. Forest Service alone spent about $1.2 billion
    fighting them, figures from the National Interagency Fire Center in
    Boise, Idaho, show.
    The Forest Service's Northern Region, comprising Montana,
    northern Idaho, slices of Washington and South Dakota, plus
    national grasslands in North Dakota, spent $351.4 million on fire
    suppression last year, and $196 million of that - about 56 percent
    - went to private contractors for services, equipment and
    personnel.
    "We've been encouraged to use contractors as much as we can to
    shift how we spend money, to stimulate the private sector," said
    Paula Nelson, a Forest Service spokeswoman at the regional office
    in Missoula. "We look every day at what kind of money we're
    spending, and we make economic choices."
    Government agencies establish some of the prices for wildfire
    services before each season, negotiate others individually and take
    competitive bids.
    "We have a pretty good idea of what we should be paying," said
    Alice Forbes, assistant fire director at NIFC. Contracts put up for
    bid generally draw 30 to 40 bidders, she said, a response she
    considers "good for competition and the government."
    Land agencies use their own resources in the initial attack on a
    fire, but as it grows, the contractors roll in. Factor in all the
    support to keep a major firefighting operation moving and
    contractors may be doing more than 90 percent of the work, said
    Greg Greenhoe, deputy fire director at the Northern Region office.
    The contractor's niche became stronger as environmental
    regulations increased, the Forest Service's own work force declined
    and homeowners' expectations for fire protection rose as more
    houses were built in the woods.
    "It's just more labor intensive when you have homes," Greenhoe
    said. "You end up with more hand-to-hand combat."
    He remembers cooking for himself as a young firefighter in the
    early 1970s. Washwater was dumped on the ground and firefighters
    bathed in streams, rigged rustic showers from a tank, pipes and
    curtains or didn't bathe.
    By the end of the '70s, "our shower unit was no longer
    appropriate from a health and safety standpoint, and a privacy
    standpoint," Greenhoe said.
    Private industry has filled the needs. Today a mobile unit with
    18 showerheads rents for about $3,000 a day. Mobile kitchens for
    fire camps get upward of $40 a day to feed firefighters three
    meals. Contractors haul away bath water and rent out truckloads of
    portable toilets.
    Caterers and shower companies came on the scene in the 1970s and
    '80s, but the major shift to contractors happened with a big
    infusion of private firefighting crews in the 1990s. The Forest
    Service's own work force declined in that decade, and 57 percent of
    those still on board were 45 or older.
    "Quite a few in the Forest Service do fight fires, but some
    say, `That's not what I was hired to do and I'm not doing it,"'
    Forbes said.
    The Forest Service still employs seasonal crews, but with
    surging demand for those on private payrolls, the country has about
    330 twenty-person teams available for hire. NIFC will pay crew
    companies about $27 an hour for each firefighter in the Western
    region this summer. The crew member must get at least $9.50 of
    that, plus overtime.
    Expeditors by Lindale Inc., of Redding, Calif., is among the
    private companies that benefit from the increase in contract work.
    "We had tents strung from one end of Montana to the other last
    summer," said Sid Nobles, a company supervisor. Expeditors sends
    equipment to fires all over the West, and not just tents with swamp
    coolers. The company's line also includes buses to transport fire
    crews and mobile laundries to wash clothes at fire camps.
    As the fire risk starts to build in New Mexico and Arizona this
    spring, Expeditors will be ready to dispatch its equipment and
    workers. When the risk spreads to other areas through the summer,
    the company will make an educated guess about the next likely hot
    spot and move equipment closer for rapid response.
    Nobles thinks of fire contractors as a fraternity.
    "Everybody knows everybody," he said. "Everybody knows what
    everybody else is getting."
    Curtis Friede at Kurt's Polaris in Missoula and Seeley Lake said
    fire contracts help cover a dent that the fires themselves put in
    his business.
    When public lands are closed and smoke fills the air, people are
    unlikely to buy his all-terrain vehicles, which tend to be impulse
    purchases, Friede said. Last summer, he leased them for fire work.
    "It's just enough (money) to keep things going in the right
    direction," Friede said.
    ---
    On the Net:
    National Interagency Fire Center: www.nifc.gov

    (Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com


  2. #2
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    It seems the wildland fire support industry is getting as big as the wildland fire suppression industry itself.....

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