Wildfires thin county firefighting force

Associated Press

Three Snohomish County wild-land fire strike teams went to Eastern Washington Tuesday to help battle blazes that have burned thousands of acres in the northeastern quarter of the state.

The fires threatened dozens of homes and cabins from the North Cascades east to the Idaho border. The wildfires, burning in grass, sagebrush and timber, were started by lightning in a series of thunderstorms that passed over the region beginning Saturday.

State officials authorized a mobilization of fire resources about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to help overburdened fire agencies in the area.

"They’ve told us to prepare for others," said Eric Andrews, Snohomish County Fire District 7 assistant chief. "We’re getting tapped out. Structural engines are the only trucks we have left.

"They’ve lost 12 structures. It sounds like they have a mess over there," Andrews said.

The first two teams sent were wild-land strike teams, and the third was a team of fire tenders, also called water tankers.

The first team left about 2 a.m., headed for the Brewster complex fire, and included firefighters from Friday Harbor and local fire districts in Gold Bar, Monroe and Snohomish, Andrews said. The second team left about 8 a.m., headed for the Virginia Lake complex, just south of Okanogan on the Colville Indian Reservation. That team included firefighters from Mill Creek, Snohomish, Marysville and Getchell fire districts and Everett Fire Department.

The third team was being assembled late Tuesday morning and included tenders from Monroe, Gold Bar and Lake Roesiger fire districts, as well as others that hadn’t been designated. They were heading to Okanogan, Andrews said.

The Virginia Lake fire complex had burned 7,700 acres, destroyed six homes and threatened another 30, said Nick Mickel, an information officer on the multiagency fire team.

On Monday, a bulldozer operator and a scout, clearing a fire trail, were caught in the blaze and forced to deploy their emergency fire shelters, suffering minor injuries, he said. Their names were not immediately available. Both were treated at an area hospital and released, he said.

Tuesday’s firefighting efforts focused on protecting threatened homes with cleared fire trails and water, Mickel said.

The 800-acre Goose Lake fire also was burning on the reservation but was largely surrounded by firebreaks and nearly contained.

The Brewster complex is made up of the 2,000-acre Gamble’s Mill and the 600-acre Indian Dan Canyon fire, said Charles Gulick, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources office in Colville.

About 500 firefighters have been called to the scene, northwest of the town of Brewster.

Farther west, the Rex Creek complex of fires had grown to about 1,500 acres total, said Ken Frederick, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

"Because these fires are on very steep, very rocky terrain and very dry, south-facing slopes, we do expect continued spread," Frederick said.

They are also lower in priority for regional staffing and equipment availability because of their remoteness and isolation compared with some of the other fires burning in Washington and Oregon, he said.

The Forest Service has closed trails in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness from the summit of the Sawtooth Range down to the lake, along with two small campgrounds on the lake, he said.

No evacuations had been ordered yet, Frederick said.

Herald writer Cathy Logg contributed to this story.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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