1. #1
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    Post Slow Season for contract crews

    RUCH, Ore. (AP) - After coming off the lines of a wildfire in
    Northern California, the men on one of Grayback Forestry's contract
    firefighting crews had to go back to the less glamorous - and less
    lucrative - job of cutting and piling brush on federal forest land.
    "It's good it's not a big fire season, because a lot of people
    are not losing their homes," said Jerry Lawrence, 19, as he
    stopped to gas up his chainsaw on a steep hillside in Oregon. "But
    it's not as good money."
    The 2004 wildfire season in the lower 48 states has been a dud
    for the private firefighting industry and the men and women who
    make good money rushing off to hotspots. Despite dire predictions
    of a catastrophic fire season, the acreage burned is about
    two-thirds below average.
    "I'm doing lots of pacing," said Bob Ferguson, vice president
    of Ferguson Management Co. in Albany, which has 16 20-person
    firefighting crews around the West. "The work has been very
    scarce. You just keep working and trying to stay organized so if we
    get the call we're ready to go."
    Private firefighting crews are called in as needed by state,
    federal or regional firefighting agencies. Because of bigger and
    more intense wildfires than in past few years, the number of
    private, 20-member crews in the United States has tripled to more
    than 300.
    But outside Alaska, the number of wildfires nationally is
    running a little below average this season at about 55,300, while
    the number of acres burned is way off - 1.3 million acres compared
    with an average of 3.7 million acres by Sept. 7 over the past 10
    years. Part of it can be attributed to a greater effort to catch
    fires early and keep them small, part to weather.
    "During fire season you learn to put away some money for that
    slow time," said Grayback crew boss Will Howell, 24, who has only
    nine days fighting fire this year. "You look at the last three
    years, they were incredible seasons. We'd start in May or June. The
    average season we start in mid-July. That throws you for a loop
    when you get used to that."
    Typically, piling brush pays about $608 a week, and $744 a week
    for firefighters operating a chainsaw, according to Grayback
    Forestry owner Mike Wheelock. Wildfires offer longer hours and more
    overtime - up to 12 hours a day seven days a week, for 14 straight
    days. Wheelock said a firefighter might make $880 for working six
    days straight - $968 if he is running a chainsaw.
    Wheelock, a former smokejumper who is one of the old-timers in
    this business, tries to get his crews enough forest-thinning work
    when firefighting is down.
    "Back in the '70s, that's what they did, had a lot of brush
    disposal crews that cleaned up the forest," he said. But the
    amount of work declined because of environmental restrictions aimed
    at protecting fish and other wildlife. "Hopefully, the Healthy
    Forests Act will start bringing that back - putting private workers
    and government agencies to work."
    Enacted last fall, the federal Healthy Forests Restoration Act
    eases environmental restrictions on thinning public forest land to
    reduce the threat of wildfire.
    Rick Dice, owner of Patrick Environmental, is also hoping the
    Healthy Forests Act leads to more forest-thinning work and gives
    his crews something to do when they are not fighting wildfires.
    "We may not look the same next year as we do this year, but
    we'll survive," said Dice, who has been in business since 1971.
    "I've been surviving a long time at this, so we'll survive."

    (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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    Post 2005 turns it around?

    BOZEMAN (AP) - For companies that make money fighting wildfires,
    business this summer could be hot.
    Drought shows up on Clint Kolarich's computer screen as a
    color-coded map, with vast swaths of the West covered in tan,
    orange and brown for "severe," "extreme" and "exceptional."
    "Looking at this year, the potential is incredible," said
    Kolarich, assistant fire management officer for Bridger Fire Inc.,
    a firefighting company in Bozeman. But he added, "It doesn't mean
    it will come to fruition."
    Another year of drought may be disastrous for farmers, fishing
    guides and companies that sell raft trips. But it could mean a busy
    summer for hundreds of businesses that contract with state and
    federal governments to provide firefighting; meals, toilets and
    showers at fire camps; heavy equipment such as bulldozers; and
    aircraft.
    Last year, the Gallatin National Forest paid close to $3,000 a
    day for a large fire engine and three-person crew operating 24
    hours, said Lorette Ray, the forest's public affairs officer.
    "When you get a big fire threatening homes, the government has
    to bite the bullet, protect the homes," said Mike Carisch of
    Carisch Helicopters west of Belgrade.
    "It could be one of the better fire years. It could be very
    smoky in the state of Montana."
    Bridger Fire has completed its hiring for the summer and is
    gearing up, training a dozen rookie firefighters and preparing six
    trucks custom built for wildfire work. Managers expect that by
    summer, the company established 10 years ago will be at full
    strength, with 35 employees.
    Even if Montana gets a cool, wet summer, Bridger Fire expects to
    have some work. In the past it has sent crews to California for
    firefighting, to Minnesota for planned burning and to Florida for
    hurricane response.
    Last week, seven rookies were in a classroom, learning about
    safety, then went to a shop housing chainsaws and other tools of
    the trade.
    "I kind of got interested because of the adventure," said
    rookie Mike Olson, 27, of Bozeman. "See new lands, maybe do some
    good."
    Firefighters have the potential to log up to 1,000 hours of
    overtime work in a five-month season, Kolarich said. Pay for
    Bridger Fire's beginners is similar to government rates of about
    $8-$10 an hour.
    Kolarich said he is drawn to firefighting by the mental and
    physical challenge, and by the chance to work outdoors.
    "My old boss once explained it can be 90 percent ho-hum and 10
    percent pure adrenaline," he said. "And once you hit that, either
    you never do it again or you never leave."
    ---
    On the Net:
    Bridger Fire Inc.: http://www.bridgerfire.com
    ---
    Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle,
    http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

    (Copyright 2005 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

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