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For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000

Clear Creek Fire faces

Quincy Jones, 29, of Williamstown, N. J., has been fighting the Clear Creek Fire for a week and a half and has another couple of days to go before he’ll return home. He’s in Idaho with a group of about 15 firefighters from New Jersey. "This has been real interesting," the police dispatcher and volunteer firefighter said. "We got to see very different fire behavior than we do at home. The fuel moisture’s a lot drier. The winds change a lot faster, and the fuel types are a lot different. The winds can swing 360 degrees in a matter of minutes. It’s really amazing."

s6firemug5.jpg (14769 bytes)Walt Sixkiller, a Cherokee Indian who calls Vernal, Utah, his home, is working on the Clear Creek fire as a public information officer. He said he’s logged over 40 years of wildland firefighting in his career and has worked all over the West. He’s now retired but was called in to help in the face of the busiest fire fighting season in several decades. "Not in all my career, I’ve never seen anything like this," he said as he drove a dusty pickup truck along dirt roads bordering the fire. "We’re experiencing some real different fire behavior this year. The fire’s been whipping us."

Bruce Giersdorf, 43, is a supervisor on the Clear Creek Fire. He works full-time in the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota as a wildland firefighter. On Friday, he supervised two hotshot firefighting crews and another crew from New Jersey to hold a fire line on the fire’s northeast front—then the most active part of the fire. "Don’t get kicked back (relax) out here. Today’s not the day to do that," he told fire crews during a briefing at noon on Friday.

Joe Scholl, 29, is a seven-year resident of Salmon, and his 4-year-old asthmatic son is having trouble with the thick smoke that’s been cast off from the nearby fire. "He usually uses his inhaler eight or nine times a year, but lately it’s been three times a day," he said. "I’m hoping some weather’s going to move in. That’s all you hear in rumors around town."

"The sun's always red"

s6firemug3.jpg (14076 bytes)“The smoke sucks,” seven-year Salmon resident Georgia Rotzien said over coffee at the Salmon River Coffee Shop on Friday morning.

“You can’t see the stars,” she said, “and the sun’s always red—and it’s been like this for a month and a half. It’s really depressing.”

Rotzien, 18, who is a coffee shop waitress and high school senior, said residents of the small, central Idaho town have been driving with their headlights on all summer. She described an eerie blue haze cast off from headlights and city streetlights through the smoke that’s smothered the town for a month and a half.

The Clear Creek Fire is burning a mere 12 miles west of Salmon in the Yellowjacket Mountains, but Rotzien said residents aren’t concerned about the prospect of the fire overtaking the town.

“People aren’t afraid to lose the town, but they’re sure sick of the smoke,” she said.

She talked about how hopeful residents are for a change in the weather (which finally occurred over the weekend).

The flip side on having the fire nearby, the 18-year-old pointed out, is “what it’s done for the local economy.”

“I’ll make in two months, almost a year’s salary,” Salmon resident Bob Phillips, 52, said as he lounged along Salmon’s main drag.

Phillips quit his job at a convenience store three weeks ago to work in a fire crew support capacity. And he’s counting on post-fire reclamation projects to keep him working in the coming years.

“It’s good money,” he said of the $9 per hour he’s making now.

Also, Rotzien added, “some people are glad to see that their tax dollars are going toward something productive in their own backyard.”


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