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Fires In The News  -  2003 fires & related news


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   2003 & related stories



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Direct Reports of fires:


See San Diego photographer Dan Megna's own website, for some stunning photographic views of California's largest fire, the Cedar Fire.


Through David Clarke, at the College of the Siskiyous, we received a photo slide show portraying other views of the devastation throughout the region. This was originally forwarded to him by OSU biologist Ann Kreager, who writes, "This is an excellent slide show depicting the California fires  -  ...Unbelievable to view especially for those of us from the area... from a biologist's perspective, it is wrenching." And it is. Be prepared. Click here to open. Left-click once to advance each photo. (PC users can also roll the mouse over the lower left corner for a pop-up menu; select 'Next' to advance each frame.)


And perhaps most poignant and meaningful of all is a personal report we received via email from David Clarke's brother, Steve, who lives in San Diego and witnessed much of the devastation from the fires firsthand.

In his Nov. 4th email in which he forwarded Steve's email letter, Dave writes, "And now for some rawness I thought you both might appreciate. My brother Steve is a deputy sheriff in east SD county, as is his wife Laurie. He writes an email maybe once a year and NEVER this long."

After reading Steve's email letter, we asked Dave to get Steve's permission to publish it here on our website. Today, Nov. 5th, Dave responded: "Steve said yes. I cleaned up the typos and left first names, but left all content alone. My brother Steve is a deputy sheriff in east SD County, as is his wife Laurie. He wrote this email to his siblings. He has given permission to me to allow it to be distributed and posted on web sites. *Krista and Austin are Steve's children (18 and 13 years of age), who were with their mom at her house. *Joe and Paula are Steve's in-laws."

Read Steve Clarke's email letter.



News Reports of fires during 2003:

"Southern Oregon crews head to firelines" - Mail Tribune, Wed., Oct. 29th, 2003

"First Firefighter Killed in Calif. Blazes" - Mail Tribune via San Diego AP wire report, Tues. Oct. 29th, 2003

"Region's fire season hangs on tight: Southern California's blazes highlight the fact that fire danger doesn't go away just because it's autumn" - Mail Tribune, Tues. Oct. 28th, 2003 (page 2A)

"BLM's fall burning program put on hold" - Mail Tribune, Sun., Oct. 26th, 2003

"Crews halt Hilt blaze" - Mail Tribune, Fri. October 24th, 2003 (page 5A)

"Fire season is still with us" - Mail Tribune, Wed., Oct. 22nd, 2003.


"Fire danger at forefront of concern" - Ashland Daily Tidings, July 31st, 2003 (Front page) (Abridged article printed below)

"Heat, wind fuel Applegate fire" - Mail Tribune, July 31st, 2003

"Watershed fire reaches 20 acres: some Ashland-area forest roads are closed, but no buildings are in danger" - Mail Tribune, July 13th, 2003

"Residents of areas burned by fires wait — and hope they're well prepared this year" - Mail Tribune, July 13th, 2003

"Dry spring, heat, lightning fueled 2002 fires" - Mail Tribune, July 13th, 2003

"Fire danger: in a word, it's 'bad'" ("We're about four weeks ahead of a 'normal summer' ... It's deceptive in that it looks like we got a good rainfall ... but it really didn't buy us much with the larger fuels ... In another couple of weeks, all that grass we have now will be cured out and we'll be way ahead of where we were a year ago as far as fire danger...") - Mail Tribune, July 13th, 2003 (Abridged article printed below)

"Emergency Services: Fire Calls" (scroll to the bottom - 2 fires) - Mail Tribune, July 13th, 2003

For more coverage of fires and related news, see KGW Northwest News Channel 8's website, which has current and seasonal news, fire prevention info, and an extensive list of related links to further resources, fire photos & interactive media displays.


The following is an article by Paul Fattig, originally published in the Sunday, July 13th, 2003, edition of Medford's The Mail Tribune, pages 1A-2A:

"Fire Danger: In a word, it's 'bad' "

"Jeff Schwanke has one word to describe this summer's wildfire threat.

" 'Bad,' concluded the district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry in southwestern Oregon.

"After 35 years of fighting wildfires in Oregon, including the last eight in Jackson and Josephine counties, Schwanke knows of what he speaks. He already has seen evidence of potential problems.

"Consider this: About 40 acres burned near Merlin in May, a wildfire destroyed a home near Cave Junction last month and a blaze near Williams early last week burned some 300 acres and threatened several homes.

" 'We're seeing fires getting bigger earlier this year than we did at this time last year,' he said. 'We're about four weeks ahead of a "normal summer" .'

"No rain has fallen in much of the region since early May, noted Schwanke, whose department protects U.S. Bureau of Land Management, state, county and private wildlands.

"Although the rainfall is now above average, thanks to a heavy spring rain, not much fell early in the year and the mountain snowpack was well below average, Schwanke said.

" 'It's deceptive in that it looks like we got a good rainfall,' he said. 'But it really didn't buy us much with the larger fuels. It wasn't timed right.'

"As a result, the fire danger is already as high as this time last year, he said.

" 'In another couple of weeks, all that grass we have now will be cured out and we'll be way ahead of where we were a year ago as far as fire danger,' he said. 'It doesn't look like a good fire season. There is a lot of opportunity for a bad one.'

"The district completed training its usual complement of 100 seasonal firefighters on Friday, making them available to battle a blaze.

"However, the department is still waiting for the Legislature to adopt a state budget. Because of budget constraints, the district has no helicopter contract this season, Schwanke said.

"A private helicopter with a water bucket is currently based at the ODF district headquarters in Central Point but isn't under contract, he said.

" 'We're not paying for it unless we use it,' Schwanke said. 'Of course, if they get a call about a fire elsewhere, they may take off.'

"Over in the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests, the U.S. Forest Service has requested more funding to beef up its fire crews, according to spokeswoman Mary Marrs.

" 'We're asking for more money now for additional fire crews and staffing, including air attack and additional engines,' she said, noting the request is in preparation for a potentially active fire season.

"The amount of additional funding requested was not available Friday.

"The two forests currently have 25 fire crew members, nine engines with 19 members, seven prevention patrols, a river fire patrol and five lookout personnel on staff, Marrs said.

"No air tanker is currently assigned to the Medford tanker base, which is now operating as a reload base. But a tanker would be called in from Klamath Falls or Redmond if needed for a fire, she said.

"Most agencies keep their fire staffs and equipment close at hand because of the growing fire danger, officials said.

"Schwanke cited the work by local rural fire districts in conjunction with the ODF, particularly when it comes to protecting homes.

"He also noted that many rural homeowners have pitched in to reduce the threat by cutting grass and thinning the forest and brushlands near their homes.

" 'The fires we had last year really brought people's awareness up,' he said. 'They're doing a lot of things on their own now to reduce the threat around their homes.'

"But they still need to be exceedingly careful this summer, he said.

" 'We have to do whatever we can this year to eliminate all possible causes that we can,' he said.

"With trees as dry as they were last year, coupled with more grass to provide ladder fuel in many areas, the potential for a bad fire season looms, he reiterated.

" 'We have the potential for a just-as-bad-if-not-worse fire season than last year,' he said."


The following is the text of an article published on July 31st, 2003 on the front page of The Daily Tidings newspaper in Ashland, OR. We are re-printing it here for its educational content in case it cannot be accessed through The Daily Tidings' online archives. Its points are well worth bearing in mind.

Top Story:

Fire danger at forefront of concern

Ashland Daily Tidings

Fire officials are asking city residents to help control sources of ignition during this extreme fire season.

In early spring, fire officials urged homeowners to remove brush, limbs and other fuels in preparation for the fire season. Now, however, removing burnables creates potential hazards and fire officials say residents should shift toward controlling ignitable substances.

"There's a need for change in perspectives on the part of our citizens regarding fire danger," Ashland Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Woodley said. "Now we're in extreme fire danger so our attention goes to controlling sources of ignition. Property owner activity such as trying to cut grass or trying to remove brush is more hazardous than leaving it there."

According to Woodley, the shift coincides with the weather. His staff changed its emphasis from removal to prevention on June 1.

Fire restrictions currently prohibit the use of chain saws, campfires, vehicles on unimproved roads and spark emitting equipment to reduce fire potential.

Woodley said the main cause of summer fires is human activity.

"With the exception of lightning, 100 percent of fires are caused by inappropriate human activity," he said.

In August 2002, AFR responded to a double house fire in the Oak Knoll neighborhood. The fire - which caused more than $400,000 in damage between the two homes - was caused by spontaneous heating of vegetation clippings stored near one of the homes.

Bagging up grass clippings or other organic yard material could lead to spontaneous heating if stored in a tight container.

However, it is possible to maintain landscape without contributing to fire danger.

Lisa Black, recycling coordinator for Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Service, said more than 450 Ashland residents take advantage of the Yard Debris Recycling program, which removes and recycles yard debris at Dry Creek Landfill in White City.

"Last year, we brought in over 873 tons (of yard debris)," Black said.

Another option for disposing of yard waste - if done properly - is composting.

Claudia Law, president of Oregon Master Gardener Association and master gardener for Oregon State University Extension service, said it's important to know what can and cannot be composted.

"People do not have a clear understanding of what's compostable and what's not," Law said. "Anything non-organic does not belong."

Proper composting requires a mixture of air, water, and carbon and nitrogen materials. Law said combustible materials, trash and plastic should be excluded from the mix.

Law said composts can become fire hazards if residents let them become too dry. It's also a good idea to keep composts away from structures or fences.

Residents can learn the right way to compost through free classes provided by Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Service. The next class is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, August 16 at the Recycling Center on Water Street.

As fire officials remain on alert, so do some Ashland residents.

For Joan Ballenger, fire is a major concern.

"What I'm seeing is people have really forgotten things like checking around their homes and along fences for dry materials and flammable brush," Ballenger said.

A Harmony Lane resident, Ballenger knows the fire danger is real - even for inner-city residents.

"We can burn up here in town," she said. "People have to have a wake-up call."

Concerned resident and Ashland Community Emergency Response Team volunteer Diane Schaffer is taking fire prevention seriously by hosting a wildfire preparedness meeting in her home Sunday.

Schaffer said the idea to host an informative meeting on how to prepare for and prevent fires was prompted by a CERT meeting in which AFR firefighter Rees Jones addressed ways to protect homes against fires.

"We were thunderstruck at how badly prepared our neighborhood is and we're near the Watershed," Schaffer said.

Schaffer hopes the meeting, which will be lead by Jones, will help her Timberline Terrace neighborhood become active in preparing and protecting their homes. She also said it will be a great way to connect with neighbors.

"Other people can do this and the fire department is always delighted to send someone to come out and talk," she said.

Woodley said it would be possible for other neighborhoods to host wildfire education meetings. However, he said it would need to be for a large gathering and preferably after the fire season.

While it is unsafe to remove ignitable materials like small diameter trees, there are some steps area residents can take to protect themselves and their neighbors, Woodley said.

Safely disposing of yard materials and clearing pine cones and needles off roofs is essential. Residents should also make sure their addresses are clearly visible and that driveways remain clear.

"We need at least 10 feet of clear width but 12 feet is better," he said, noting fire engines and other response vehicles need quick access to effectively fight fires.

Woodley urged residents to pay attention to fire restrictions. If residents don't abide by safe fire practices, they could end up with a hefty fine.

"Fire protection agencies are going to recover costs from homeowners if it is discovered the cause was a blatant disregard for fire safety," he said.

Residents interested in learning more on protecting their homes against fire can pick up "Living With Fire: A Guide for the Homeowner," at the AFR station.


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