July 18, 2008

Fire Breaks Circle Cold Springs Blaze

By Erik Robinson, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Jul. 18--More than 1,000 firefighters and support personnel, who have doubled Trout Lake's population in less than a week, battled the Cold Springs fire to a standoff as of Thursday evening.

Crews reinforced more than 20 miles of brush-free fire breaks that all but surrounded the 7,933-acre blaze. Yet the fire remained only 30 percent contained, with the ever-present risk that it could jump the lines and torch fire-prone areas to the south in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Warmer weather and gusty winds are due beginning Saturday.

"When you have a forest fire this major, no one can say with certainty that nothing can happen," said Joe Fields, a spokesman for the incident command team. "All it takes is one downdraft, and all bets are off."

The massive infusion of manpower and equipment, along with relatively cool temperatures and higher humidity, has effectively corralled the fire over the past couple of days. It's also run up a hefty tab: $3,239,632 as of Thursday evening.

Firefighting costs have consumed an increasingly large proportion of budgets of federal land-management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service. In trying to better control those costs, managers are now required to make daily tabulations of the bill.

"There isn't just a bottomless pit of funding," Fields said.

A total of 1,037 firefighters and support personnel have taken up residence on the fields surrounding the Trout Lake School. Nine bulldozers, 33 engines and seven helicopters are contributing to the effort.

"There's a huge tent city here," said Rick McClure, archaeologist for the Gifford Pinchot. "You'd look at this thing and think it's Woodstock."


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

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