Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Local firefighters deployed to South

Sawtooth crews respond to dangerous fire conditions


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Four Sawtooth National Forest wildland firefighters have been deployed to Texas and Louisiana in response to a high risk of wildfires associated with prolonged drought in that region.

Three of the firefighters left for Louisiana on Friday in a Type 6 engine, which is designed to fight wildfires. That crew arrived on Monday. Another firefighter was sent to Texas to work on a helicopter crew.

All four will be stationed in the area for a minimum of two weeks with a possible extension of three weeks, said Bill Murphy, fire management officer for the north zone of the Sawtooth National Forest.

The effort is a joint venture between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and extends throughout the Southwest, which is also experiencing dangerously dry conditions, Murphy said.

"They need extra staffing due to drought conditions that area of the country is experiencing," Murphy said. "They're bracing themselves for an active spring fire season."

Murphy said the dry conditions in much of the South have persisted since the fall, and the enormous amount of deadfall left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has only compounded the issue in Louisiana.

"The hurricane has left an extra amount of fuel on the ground, which (creates) the potential for larger fires," Murphy said.

A wildland fire update from the National Interagency Fire Center on Tuesday reported "12 new large fires" in the South. Three wildfires over 160 acres in size were burning in Texas on Tuesday, while there were no active large fires in Louisiana.

To date, Texas has suffered its third driest fall and winter on record. Farther west, in Arizona, Phoenix has gone a record 139 days without measurable precipitation.




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