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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default National Guard for Wildland

    States look to Guard as last resort in fire season


    Associated Press

    Last update: April 11, 2005


    SEATTLE -- The Northwest faces what could be one of its worst wildfire seasons in years, but military duty in Iraq means forestry officials might not be able to call on their states' National Guard units as much as they'd like.

    Wildland fires burned more than 155,000 acres in 2004 across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, and this year a preliminary outlook shows above-normal fire potential in the region because of a run of unusually dry weather.

    "The Pacific Northwest, including northern Idaho and western Montana, has pretty serious water and fuel issues, so the folks in those states are being wise to look at preplanning," said Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

    Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has already asked the Pentagon to free up some of his state's 1,500 National Guard soldiers still on active duty because of the war. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said he couldn't do that, but he promised help from other states if Schweitzer asks for it.

    U.S. operations in Iraq have stripped Montana of its 12 UH-60 Blackhawks, which played critical roles in 2003 when wildfires in Montana burned more than 736,800 acres.

    The Blackhawks in the past were fitted with 600-gallon buckets to drop water on fires, said Maj. Scott Smith, a guard spokesman. An option this year could be to use the guard's four CH-47 Chinook helicopters, capable of carrying 2,000-gallon buckets -- but first, flight engineers will have to be trained to serve on each four-person crew.

    Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has asked for an assessment of National Guard resources that will be available during the 2005 fire season.

    "It really is a matter of being prepared," said Holly Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Kulongoski.

    The bulk of Oregon's 8,000-plus National Guard soldiers have returned from overseas deployments. Its five Chinook helicopters have been deployed to Afghanistan, but 12 Blackhawk helicopters could be readily available, said Capt. Mike Braibish, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard.

    Most of Washington's 8,200 National Guardsmen will be available. However, the 81st Armor Brigade -- with about 3,200 soldiers normally called to respond to state emergencies -- has been trickling back from Iraq and the state's adjutant general has asked that it be the last deployed to fight fires.

    "Our last resort would be to call upon the services of someone who recently returned from Iraq," said Master Sgt. Jeff Clayton, a National Guard spokesman at Camp Murray.

    Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire already has declared an official drought emergency and ordered the National Guard to prepare for battling wildfires this summer. At her request, the Legislature passed a measure allowing the governor to activate the guard for firefighting training.

    Washington's Department of Natural Resource relies first on its own employees, seasonal firefighters and contract crews, as well as inmates from the Corrections Department, said Janet Pearce, a spokeswoman for the department.

    "We're feeling fairly confident that we have enough available resources," she said. The National Guard would be used only when all other avenues are exhausted, and even then would serve only a support role -- setting up base camps and transporting firefighters.

    The Washington National Guard is already planning various stages of activation, from supplying limited transportation and logistics support to assigning soldiers to firefighting. It's something they've done since the record 1994 fire season when 1,500 guardsmen had to work on the fire lines, said Clayton.

    "We're hoping for a mild fire season. We're planning for it to be a robust fire season," he said.



    On the Net:

    National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Wet Winter Brings New Threats

    In the West, a Wet Winter Brings Blooms - and Threats


    New York Times
    April 11. 2005 6:01AM



    AN DIEGO, April 10 - After the record rains and snows of winter, vast swaths of the Southwest have been transformed by color. The coastal foothills of California lie blanketed by patches of yellow mustard blooms, and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona are drowned in once-in-a-century seas of grasses and wildflowers.


    Yet the wet winter has also led to three threats: West Nile virus, wildfires and swarms of bees.


    In 2004, California reported 28 deaths from 830 human cases of West Nile virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes, which thrive in wet weather. Though human cases have yet to appear in 2005, birds and mosquitoes with the virus have shown up in 20 of the 58 California counties. Last week, 12 infected dead birds were found, raising the total to 51.


    "In San Bernardino County, one mosquito and one chicken have tested positive," said Amanda Colombo, a spokeswoman for the West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District, which works to limit mosquitoes and other pests that spread disease. "We didn't see any positives last year until May."


    Ms. Colombo said it was too early to tell whether there would be an increase in human West Nile cases in 2005, but mosquito traps in San Bernardino County were generally collecting up to double the mosquitoes trapped last year. Officials have been conducting aerial surveillance to identify and treat sources of standing water, where mosquitoes breed.


    "It's green pools and trash cans without lids," Ms. Colombo said. "A lot of little sources are adding up."


    Dr. Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease section at the California Department of Health Services, said the number of West Nile cases was likely to rise more markedly this spring and summer in the northern and central parts of the state, where the disease is not yet well established.


    [b]In the Cleveland National Forest in eastern San Diego County, over 40 inches of rain have filled a mountaintop gauge since last July. Thirty thousand acres of the forest burned in October 2003 in the Cedar Fire, which destroyed about 273,000 acres in total, the largest wildfire in California history. Officials said that once the new greenery dries out, it will create new fire hazards.

    On a broad, grassy hillside, Acree Shreves, a fire management officer for the Cleveland National Forest, indicated a bright green and yellow area of newly sprouted buckwheat, mustard and grass. "Everything you see here was burned by the Cedar Fire," Mr. Shreves said. "All of this is regrowth."

    Down the hill lies Sweetwater Creek, where the Cedar Fire's march was stopped. Beyond it, green chaparral is mixed with dead, gray patches withered by six years of drought. It has been 34 years since fire last burned this piece of land.

    "Now you have new growth growing amongst the brush," Mr. Shreves said, "but that high percentage of dead material is going to stay until it burns. So our standing brush fields that did not burn in the Cedar Fire are as dangerous if not more dangerous than they were" then.

    All the new grasses, he added, will be problematic for desert areas. "You're going to see desert fires that we haven't seen in quite some time," he said. "This spring, especially in Arizona, April and May are the big problem times."[b]

    From November 2004 to March of this year, Phoenix had 7.51 inches of rain, more than double the average for the period. And Las Vegas was pelted with 8.94 inches, far above its average of 2.37 inches. From Las Vegas to Tucson, this has meant seas of flowers and swarms of bees.


    "Within the last three days, we've probably had a dozen and a half bee calls," said Capt. Adam Goldberg of the Northwest Fire District in Tucson. "I've been listening to them on the radio left and right."


    Captain Goldberg said the calls in his area had been running twice the annual average. Officials in Phoenix said the number of calls had tripled.


    Many have reported swarms that have left overcrowded hives in search of a hollow tree, a cactus or even an attic. On March 23, a swarm invaded Tucson Electric Park during a spring training game between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. None of the more than 8,000 attendees reported being stung, but the ballgame was stopped after five innings.


    When bees have a hive to defend, they can be far more dangerous. In January, two joggers in Saguaro National Park in Arizona were stung more than 600 times after stumbling upon a hive; they both survived. On March 16, a group of illegal immigrants wandering in the Arizona desert were stung repeatedly after seeking refuge in an abandoned house that turned out to be filled with bees. On March 21, Captain Goldberg said, a colony settled under the hood of a pickup truck.


    "It was an elderly gentleman," he said. "He thought he was having mechanical difficulties and pulled into a gas station. There were literally thousands of bees swarming the windows. He got out of the car and was stung twice just batting them away."


    Most bees in the Southwest have interbred with more aggressive "Africanized" bees that have entered the United States from Mexico. Experts said people may have to run up to a half-mile before a swarm will back off. And if bees settle in a house, they said, it is best to hire a qualified bee remover.


    "A week ago, we had a call from a man who had bees in the attic of his very nice home, and he wanted to get rid of them," said Katy Heiden, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Fire District. "He sprayed a can of wasp spray and the bees were not thoroughly intimidated."


    In a further effort to get rid of them, Ms. Heiden said, he lit something on fire. "The vapors from the residue ignited," she said, and the attic "went up like a wave."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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