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OCTOBER 21 -- HAMILTON, MT:  Yes, this is October, and yes, there's a fire on the Bitterroot. It was only 30º this morning in Hamilton, but a 40-acre fire on the Bitterroot National Forest was keeping firefighters busy over the weekend.

The fire started Saturday afternoon in the Flat Creek area southwest of the West Fork Ranger District. The Missoulian reported that 35 firefighters were brought in yesterday; two helicopters were assigned to work the fire, which is burning in a remote area in light fuels. The fire was moving fast enough Saturday that a smoke column was visible from the ranger station.

The Ravalli Republic reported that the Flat Creek Fire was originally named the Sentimental Fire for a nearby creek, but it was re-named after fire managers determined it is closer to the Flat Creek area. Helicopters are dropping water on the fire and shuttling crews and equipment; firefighters were dispatched from Ronan and other areas so the Forest can maintain sufficient IA resources.

The fire was reported Saturday just hours after crews working overnight contained a five-acre fire near Hamilton. And last Wednesday firefighters contained an 18-acre fire near Kootenai Creek. The Forest Service is urging forest users to be careful with campfires, smoking, and equipment. Though it's late in the season, conditions are drier than people realize. Forest vegetation is freezing at night, according to Dixie Dies with the Bitterroot, and it's drying out enough to burn readily.

The cause of the Flat Creek Fire is under investigation; fire officials suspect it was human-caused.



OCTOBER 21 -- SYDNEY, NSW:  Residents of New South Wales who tried their own backburning may be responsible for a bushfire that firefighters are still struggling to contain, according to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald. Two bushfires swept through the Cessnock area over the weekend, and one fire killed a man and destroyed 13 homes.

A 55-year-old man was burned to death as his car was consumed by flames on Saturday, and a fire near Kurri Kurri is believed to have started after residents carried out their own backburning.

"If we can prosecute, we will," said John Winter with the Rural Fire Service.

About 65 bushfires were burning across the state of New South Wales over the weekend; the main areas of concern were the lower Hunter region and the Blue Mountains near Bullaburra. The Hunter region was the focus of firefighting efforts, especially around Cessnock, Dungog, and Foster. Thirteen homes were lost on Saturday in the town of Abernethy, near Cessnock, and thousands of hectares of bushland were destroyed.

Three helicopters were in operation in the Hunter region, each carrying 3000 litres of water. One giant helitanker was also used. "[People believe] it's not a real fire until you have a helitanker," said Winter.



OCTOBER 20 -- PARADISE, CA:  The family of John Dornan and Butte County Fire and CDF personnel are in mourning today; remains believed to be Dornan's were found yesterday afternoon near Inskip. He had been missing since last weekend.

The Chico Enterprise-Record reported that about 30 volunteers gathered at The Sport Haven at 9 a.m. yesterday to look for the missing Paradise man. The group included off-duty CDF personnel, Paradise volunteers, and Search and Rescue personnel; they combed the upper ridge, and Dornan was found by one of his sons.

Dornan, 53, retired from Butte County Fire/CDF last March after 25 years with CDF in Gridley. "He was a valued, top-notch employee," said Division Chief Henry Brachais. "Everyone, including everyone in the command center, is really sad."

Fire Capt. Mike Carr worked with Dornan for three years and had known him for more then 10 years. "He motivated me in the years that I worked with him," said Carr. "John was really motivated, even in the last years prior to retiring. He was training with the younger firefighters. John was always happy around the station. He liked to play a lot and was good at keeping morale up. I think our whole department will truly miss John."



OCTOBER 20 -- WASHINGTON, DC:   Legislation to reduce the risk of wildfire in national forests is drawing the wrath of environmental activists, who say it will mean large-scale logging of centuries-old trees. In this campaign season, some of those environmentalists are turning on old friends who support the bill, according to an Associated Press story in the Olympian; they've denounced Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and protesters turn up at his office on a regular basis.

Just as DeFazio and other House members were on the brink of a bipartisan compromise, House leaders ended the legislative session. But DeFazio and others say they'll keep trying.

"The Western United States needs a bill on wildfire -- not Democrats or Republicans," DeFazio said. "Communities are at risk. Homes are at risk. That's why we have tried to reach a compromise."

The bill's had staunch opposition from environmentalists and some Democrats, who complain about what they see as limits on public involvement. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to streamline fuels reduction projects by limiting appeals and judicial reviews that delay the projects. DeFazio and Miller, whose states were hard-hit by wildfire this summer, say a compromise must be reached. Drought and overgrown forests led to one of the most severe fire seasons on record, with about 6.7 million acres burned.

Leading environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, The Wilderness Society, and the American Lands Alliance, denounced Miller and DeFazio for trying to work out a deal with Republicans.



OCTOBER 19 -- SYDNEY, NSW:  Four fires were deliberately set along a remote country road, causing a bushfire which was still burning out of control in the Blue Mountains National Park last night, according to the Sydney Sun-Herald.

Air-Crane in AustraliaAn arsonist set the fire off about 4 miles north of Leura; the fire was headed east and could threaten the township of Bullaburra.

Late yesterday there were about 80 firefighters on the Blue Mountains fire, along with six helicopters; the RFS was expected to call in the two Erickson Air-Crane helitankers leased by the NSW government.

New Zealander Grant White will join Melbourne pilot Mark Jones as well as pilots from the U.S. and Canada to operate two of the giant helicopters during the coming fire season. The aircraft are being leased for $24,000 per day each ($13,204.80 in U.S. dollars) and will be stationed at Bankstown Airport for four months.

The fire in the Blue Mountains National Park is one of 55 burning across New South Wales; firefighters were also working on outbreaks near Tenterfield, Glen Innes, and Grafton.



OCTOBER 18 -- EUREKA, CA:  The cause of a small fire west of Ruth Lake is under investigation, according to the Forest Service and the Eureka Times-Standard. The fire was reported early yesterday morning, and CDF and Forest Service resources responded. Despite wind and warm temperatures, the fire was contained by 3 p.m., and Rick Addey with the Forest Service said cooler evening temperatures should help with control.

"This wasn't caused by Mother Nature," he said.

CDF sent five engines, two dozers, an air attack plane, and a helicopter along with hand crews. The Forest Service had four airtankers, two crews, a dozer, a watertender, and three engines on the fire.



OCTOBER 18 -- PARADISE, CA:  John Dornan has been missing since Sunday and local police fear the worst. Dornan, 53, is a retired Butte County Fire/CDF firefighter; described as six feet tall and 160 pounds with brown hair, hazel eyes, and mustache, Dornan was reported missing by his family. Law enforcement personnel said Dornan has been depressed.

The Chico Enterprise-Record reported that the Butte County Sheriff's Department conducted a helicopter search of the Feather River canyon area and Butte County Fire/CDF stations are posting flyers with Dornan's description and photo. CDF Firefighters local 2881 is organizing a search party with off-duty personnel.

"We can't sit around and do nothing," said Janet Marshall, information officer with Butte County Fire. "Firefighters are used to taking action and when it's one of our own, we're not going to sit back easily."

Dornan drives a cream and tan 1971 Ford Bronco, license plate number 021 KUU. Anyone with information should contact the Paradise Police Department at (530)872-6241.



OCTOBER 18 -- FORKS, WA:  High fire danger and extended dry conditions throughout Washington's forests have resulted in the extension of the state's legal wildfire season through next Tuesday, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Interagency Incident Management Team Four has established a fire management camp near Sekiu for the Olympic Complex, a group of seven small fires burning in timber and slash and deep duff about 15 miles west of Clallam Bay. The fires are burning on private industrial forestland south of the Makah Indian Reservation, east of the Ozette Indian Reservation, and north of Lake Ozette. The largest fire is about 300 acres, and several fires are less than five acres. The cause of the fires is under investigation.

The Peninsula Daily News reported that about 400 acres had burned by Wednesday night. Fire Prevention Specialist Paul Hampton with DNR said several helicopters and about 300 firefighters were on the fire; the complex was estimated at 40 percent containment last night.

Through Tuesday, October 22, firewood cutters, woods workers, and industrial forest users are required to observe special safety precautions. The Industrial Forest Precaution Level system that regulates the use of chainsaws and other spark-emitting equipment is also extended until October 22. The DNR has information on fire danger by county online.

By law, Washington's fire season typically starts April 15 and ends October 15. Eastern Washington and the Columbia Gorge area, where most of Washington's major wildfires typically take place, are still receiving less precipitation than normal. After an already dry summer with less than half normal rainfall, September precipitation rates also fell short; the east slopes of the Cascades were at 20 percent of normal, and central Washington only 10 percent of normal.

"The Pacific Northwest typically closes the fire season with a season-ending rain event," said DNR Fire Weather Meteorologist Greg Sinnett. "This year, however, an El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean is deflecting storms both north and south, away from Washington. Longer range weather computer models call for below normal precipitation throughout the winter months."

For more information on the Olympic Complex fires, contact Cathy Baker, Forks fire information, at (360)374-6131.



OCTOBER 17 -- WASHINGTON, DC:  The Forest Service has been reviewing security at its airtanker bases after the agency was warned earlier this year about terrorist risks connected with airtankers. The Forest Service hired an intern -- a recent law school graduate with no aviation or security experience -- to coordinate its nationwide anti-terrorism response, and fewer than a third of the airtanker bases have been inspected.

Tankers 72 and 16 at San Bernardino"Some deadlines were not met in the heat of the fire season," said Tom Harbour, deputy director with USFS Fire & Aviation. "If somebody's really determined, I couldn't guarantee that one of these aircraft wouldn't be hijacked."

The Daily Camera reported that the JeffCo tanker base in Colorado is one of the 14 bases inspected. Mark Michelsen, base manager, said it received high marks. Security programs and a plan to relocate in an emergency were developed before September 11, 2001; aircraft are kept locked and lighted behind secure fencing at night and have regular police patrols.

The contracted airtankers "are vulnerable to theft and could be attractive to terrorists wishing to disperse biological or chemical weapons," according to a March report by the inspector general of the Department of Agriculture. But the Forest Service has not had the time or money to assess the threat at all 52 tanker bases, said Tim Melchert, 35, the intern assigned in August to work on aviation security.

The inspector general's report also said, "Four of the seven airtanker bases we visited generally had only a chain link fence around the compound and not all of the gates were secured." But many security measures that could be taken would conflict with the need to get tankers in the air quickly. Locking the planes in a secure hangar, for instance, would delay response time and could jeopardize homes near a fire.

Also, launching a chemical or biological attack from an airtanker could only be done by someone trained to fill the tanks on the aircraft, fly it, and operate the dispersal system. The government was concerned enough to order cropdusters grounded for several days at a time after the attacks, even at the height of the agricultural spraying season in some areas.



OCTOBER 16 -- CHESTER, CA:  The Lassen National Forest invites firefighters, friends, and family to a memorial service on Saturday in honor of the three firefighters who died on the Stanza Fire on the Klamath National Forest earlier this summer:  Steven Oustad, 51, of Westwood, California, Heather DePaolo, 29, of Redding, California, and John Self, 19, of Susanville, California.

Map showing ChesterThe three were killed when their Forest Service engine went off a mountain road at about 2 a.m. on July 28.

The two other crewmembers who were injured -- Ryan Smith, 20, and Alex Glover, 19 -- were later released from the hospital for recuperation.

All five were crewmembers of Engine 11 from the Almanor Ranger District of the Lassen National Forest stationed in Chester.

The memorial service will be held this Saturday, October 19, at the Chester High School football field at 612 First Street in Chester.

For more information, call Leona Rodreick at (530)257-2151



OCTOBER 15 -- MORGAN HILL, CA:  The U.S. Small Business Administration has declared the site of the Croy Fire a disaster area, making victims of the fire eligible for low-interest government loans. The fire burned more than 3,000 acres in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Morgan Hill. KCRA-TV reported that the Croy Fire was the third-largest wildfire ever in Santa Clara County; it destroyed 34 homes and damaged four others. Suppression costs ran $8.8 million and property damage is estimated at $3.5 million. The CDF site on the Croy Fire says that 65 residences were confirmed saved.

The SBA last week granted the California Office of Emergency Services' request to declare the site a disaster area so that residents would be eligible to apply for disaster loans, and the SBA opened a disaster office in Morgan Hill on Saturday. For more information call the SBA at (800)488-5323 or check their website at www.sba.gov/disaster/



OCTOBER 15 -- AUBURN, CA:  As the 2002 wildfire season edges toward fall, fire managers are reminding people that we're not yet out of the woods. The months of October and November have produced disastrous wildfires in many communities, particularly in California. As Mark D'Ambrogi, Auburn Fire Chief, recently wrote in the Auburn Journal, the threat is still very real and present. With the right conditions -- wind, fuels, and an ignition source -- communities such as Auburn could still experience a disastrous wildfire.

So what do fire managers recommend we do? "We prepare for the fire seasons ahead," says D'Ambrogi. "When do we do this? Now."

Fire Safe CouncilD'Ambrogi urges local residents to participate in the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council, a forum for local officials and citizens to identify fire safety concerns and develop long-term fire-safe planning for the community.

Combining the expertise, resources, and distribution channels of its members, a Fire Safe Council preserves California's natural and manmade resources by mobilizing Californians to make their homes, neighborhoods, and communities fire safe. Since its formation in April 1993, the Fire Safe Council has distributed fire prevention education materials, evaluated legislation related to fire safety, and helped other organizations with fire safety programs. There are 50 public and private organizations listed as members of the Fire Safe Council. A list of local councils in California is maintained online, and information on forming a local council is available by emailing FireSafe@mslpr.com or checking the FSC website at www.firesafecouncil.org

The Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council meets on the third Thursday of each month in the City Hall Rose Room. The next scheduled meeting is Thursday, October 17, at 4 p.m.



OCTOBER 14 -- DETROIT, OR:  Though environmental activists in the Pacific Northwest are well known for blocking timber sales and tying up forest management projects through appeals and litigation, both Forest Service officials and environmentalists agree that a proposed timber sale near Detroit is proof that collaboration can pay off. The Salem Statesman-Journal reported that the 475-acre Windy Canyon sale on the Willamette National Forest will yield about 6.5 million board feet of timber, mostly 70-year-old Douglas-firs; the sale goes up for auction November 7.

"We feel it's a big success story," said Jeremy Hall, northwest field representative for the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "It's a win for the forests, it's a win for some of the local timber companies, and it's a win for the Forest Service to be able to get things done."

Rodney Stewart, with the Detroit Ranger District, said he and Hall have been hashing out terms of the sale since planning began in 1997. "Jeremy brought things to us that he told us quite clearly he didn't agree with," said Stewart. The sale originally included seven groves of old-growth trees, for example. That provision was dropped. Now the sale comprises thinning of trees that are mostly less than 20 inches in diameter, most of which will be removed by helicopter.

The ONRC advocates measures that mimic nature in reducing fuel loads, so as to return forests to their pre-settlement densities and fire regimes. These measures include prescribed burning, thinning of small fire-sensitive trees, removal of livestock, a let-burn policy in some areas, and less destructive firefighting techniques.



OCTOBER 14 -- STEHEKIN, WA:  The narrow valley behind this rustic Lake Chelan community is so ripe to burn, so thick with pine, fir, and parched needles, that managers with the National Park Service are taking an unusual step:  They're logging.

The Seattle Times reported that what's happening seems like a page ripped from Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative. There's growing evidence to suggest that some forests can be returned to a natural, more fire-resistant state only through burning and thinning. But much of the debate in Congress has focused solely on logging -- and whether environmental rules have made the forests prone to out-of-control fires.

"The issue is how to change the combustibility of these landscapes, so we can control the fires we want controlled," said Stephen J. Pyne, an Arizona State University professor and the author of several wildfire books. "It may mean raking up pine needles. It could mean thinning. It could mean burning. But instead of framing the issue in those terms, we went right for the political jugular -- environmental rules versus logging. The present situation is absurd. It's a blood feud."

Tod Johnson, FMO for the the North Cascades National Park, said much of the debate has missed the point; he says limits on thinning are one of the worst things that could be done, but that community trust in agency management is critical.

Near a popular trailhead west of the Stehekin boat landing is an open stand of trees. Last winter, with the valley buried in snow, a commercial logging contractor came through this 34-acre site and removed dozens of Douglas-firs. The simple explanation, Johnson said: The trees didn't belong there.

RxFire at North CascadesThe ponderosa pine forest used to burn every five to 30 years. Small fires consumed twigs, branches, and needles. Occasional crown fires culled the pines and left grassy openings in the forest. Tree stands in the pine forests from eastern Washington to South Dakota now have 10 to 100 more trees per acre than they once did.

"Some of these forests have changed so much they're burning outside their evolutionary capabilities," said Pyne.

In Stehekin, the forest is a lightning strike away from conflagration. Last year, the Rex Creek Fire southeast of Stehekin exploded to 54,000 acres, running nine miles in one night. In Stehekin, Park Service employees trimmed trees around homes to create firebreaks. They removed brush and piled it for removal. And they used controlled burns -- with mixed success.

"Prescribed fire wasn't working," said Andris Vezis, another fire manager. "The pole-sized and larger trees weren't dying -- we couldn't get the fire hot enough to kill them. The heat wasn't enough to mimic real fire." So the NPS proposed logging.

They held public meetings and put together environmental impact statements. Slowly, season by season, they began cutting bigger trees, while continuing with prescribed fires. They agreed to stack all the marketable timber for locals to use as firewood. Few environmentalists questioned the motives for the logging. Still, fire manager Vezis said, he was pleased that "people you'd think would be against us are actually with us; some of our strongest opponents are now some of our strongest allies."



OCTOBER 13 -- CHATTANOOGA, TN:  Tennessee's wildfire season starts tomorrow, and the state's foresters are finding this year's damp woodlands as pleasing a sight as the annual colorful foliage.

Drought index - click to enlarge"It is looking pretty good right now," said John Kirksey, state forest protection chief.

The Tennessean reported that steady rains could mean that the upcoming fire season -- October 15 through May 15 -- will provide a break after two busy fire years.

"If these hurricanes keep moving through, maybe we'll slip under the wire here," said Robin Bible, state fire management staff forester.

In 2001, wildfires burned 70,000 acres statewide, compared with 84,435 acres that burned in 2000. So far this year, wildfires have burned only 13,837 acres in the state.

An extended drought across the Southeast has not been as severe in Tennessee.

Tennessee fires by yearAnnual rainfall accumulations are about 6 inches below normal in Chattanooga and about 6 inches above normal in Knoxville.

But forestry folks know it's just a temporary lull.

"It is going to dry up, and it's going to get colder, and the leaves are going to fall," said Robert Rhinehart with the forestry division. "The funny thing is, if you've been in fire very long at all, if this rain stops and we've had a couple of days of pretty weather and a little bit of wind, sagebrush is going to burn."

The National Weather Service predicted drier, cooler air arriving tomorrow for several days, with the temperature dipping to the low 40s.



OCTOBER 14 -- SISTERS, OR:  Wind blew a prescribed burn on the Sisters Ranger District out of control Thursday, but the fire's now about 75 percent contained at 150 acres. Jinny Pitman with the Forest Service told the Bend Bulletin they were planning to burn about 40 acres north of Sisters and four miles east of Camp Sherman.

"We can usually catch any spot fires on flat ground, but because it was on the ridge and burned very rapidly upward, it just got out of control," said Pitman.

The RNA Fire, in the Metolius Research Natural Area on the Deschutes National Forest, burned through dry fuels. Incident Commander Daryl Davis of the Sisters Fire Department said a retardant drop on the fire helped in containment. "The retardant held down the fire until we got here," Davis said. "Now we've got the fire knocked down. It's looking great."

A burnout operation was conducted yesterday, and the fire's growth has been confined within the Research Natural Area. It's remained a low intensity fire, mostly burning underbrush and dead, downed material. The management plan for the area includes applying Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST), minimizing the impact on the landscape from fire suppression activities to protect the scenic value of the area.

"A goal of the research area is to study the effects of wildfire in natural conditions," said Lorri Heath, FMO on the Sisters portion of the Cascade Division. "We're pleased this fire has remained at a low intensity with little mortality." Visitors to the area can expect some delays and detours in the RNA area, at the junction of the 14 Road and the 900 spur, and south of Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery.



OCTOBER 13 -- MISSOULA, MT:  "In the history of wildland fire, South Canyon is one of the landmarks," says John Maclean, who spent five years investigating and writing the book Fire on the Mountain:  The True Story of the South Canyon Fire.  "It is not some ephemeral thing that no one will remember 25 years later. This story -- and the feel of this story -- is forever. People still cry about this fire, and I think they always will."

On Friday evening, Maclean joined producers from the History Channel and Lone Wolf Pictures in hosting an advance screening of the new "docu-movie" based on his book. There have been other films about the South Canyon Fire (and the History Channel did an earlier feature on Mann Gulch), but according to the Missoulian, nothing that's aired on the South Canyon Fire has met with Maclean's favor.

From the beginning, he said, the History Channel's proposal felt right. "They understood that a story has to have a past to be really good. You don't just make a thrill-a-minute movie. You need the history."

The film is a combination of traditional documentary-style footage -- firefighters and families telling the story of the South Canyon Fire -- and re-creations of events, particularly of the scene on Storm King Mountain the afternoon of the blowup. Fire on the Mountain had its first showing Friday night at the historic Wilma Theater. Proceeds from the evening -- including a donation of $3,500 from the History Channel -- benefitted the Storm King 14 Scholarship Fund, which provides college scholarships for relatives of fallen firefighters. About 700 people saw the film, which was followed by a standing ovation.

The film will be aired nationally at 9 p.m. on Monday, October 28 on the History Channel.

Maclean's second book on fire will be out next spring. Henry Holt and Co. will publish a collection of fire stories written by Maclean, including a profile of Bob Sallee, one of three smokejumpers who survived the Mann Gulch blowup. The book will also include a concise history of wildland firefighting, and stories on the Sadler Fire and the Rattlesnake Fire.

Maclean intends to continue reporting on and writing about wildfires and the people who fight them. Wildland firefighting did change because of the deaths on Storm King Mountain, he says. Firefighters were -- and are -- encouraged to "just say no" if they are asked to do something that seems too dangerous. The pendulum may even have swung a bit too far to the cautionary side, Maclean says. But that's to be expected, given the magnitude of the tragedy on Storm King Mountain.

"The 14 people who died on Storm King were the heart and soul of firefighting," he said. "You look at the photographs of those men and women, and you see yourself or your son or daughter. South Canyon wasn't supposed to happen. Good people aren't supposed to die."



OCTOBER 13 -- SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH:  The children of two Utah State Prison inmate firefighters, who died two years ago while fighting a fire in Tooele County, have once again been denied death benefits by the federal government.

Flame-In-Go logoThe Daily Herald reported that a U.S. Department of Justice administrative hearing officer has denied an appeal filed on behalf of 12-year-old Natasha Whittaker and 5-year-old Raymond Braithwaite.

Whittaker's father, Michael Todd Bishop, 27, died August 23, 2000, along with 26-year-old Rodgie Braithwaite. The two were members of the prison's Flame-In-Go inmate firefighter program overseen by Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Bishop and Braithwaite were fighting the North Stansbury Fire west of Grantsville, Utah, when they were struck by lightning and killed. Four other firefighters were seriously injured in the same lightning storm; they were examined at a hospital and released the same evening.

Flame-In-Go shoulder patchBishop's family applied for $147,000 in federal firefighter insurance benefits, and Braithwaite's family later joined them in their quest. But the government says inmates are ineligible because they cannot be classified as public safety officers.

Bishop and Braithwaite were both federally certified firefighters and trained to NWCG standards, but the Justice Department says no prison firefighter's relatives have ever been granted benefits.

The families' attorney is filing a final appeal with the Justice Department.

The 63-page accident investigation report is online in PDF courtesy of the BLM.



OCTOBER 13 -- RENO, NV:  Three crew members who died when when their airtanker crashed on a fire in June were honored yesterday at the Nevada Firefighters Memorial in Mills Park. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that about 150 people watched as plaques in memory of pilot Steve Wass, co-pilot Craig Labare, and flight engineer Mike Davis were unveiled at the memorial. The three men went down in a C-130A after dropping on the Cannon Fire in Walker, California, 80 miles south of Reno.

Another plaque honoring Capt. Bob Marsh of Clark County's Cal-Nev-Ari Volunteer Fire Department also was dedicated. The 78-year-old Marsh died of a heart attack while responding to an October 2001 traffic accident.

The enrollment of these four brings to 50 the number of firefighters known to have died in the line of duty in Nevada since 1870. Family members of all four were present. Two nieces and a nephew of Wass were escorted by Duane Powers of Hawkins & Powers Aviation, who owned the plane that crashed near Walker. An American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on August 12 in memory of the victims of last year's terrorist attacks also was used in the event.



OCTOBER 12 -- WASHINGTON, DC:  The National Park Service (NPS) has forbidden its staff from privately publishing material on any work-related topic without approval from the agency, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who in September sent a letter to NPS Director Fran Mainella requesting retraction of the order and removal of the manager who authored it.

In a September 16 memo on "Employee Ethical Responsibilities and Conduct" addressed to all employees in the Intermountain Region, NPS warned that violations would result in disciplinary action up to and including removal. One of the 19 rules in the memo adresses "Non-Official Expression":

"Employees who are writing or speaking on a topic which is generally related to their work, are expressing themselves as private citizens and not as representatives of the Department, are communicating under the concept of non-official expression, regardless of whether they are receiving payment for it. A notice of intention to publish non-official expression and certificate of compliance must be submitted through proper channels to the Regional Public Affairs Officer who will forward a recommendation to the Assistant Regional Director, Human Resources for approval."

The memo, which is available online in a PDF file, did not specify what is required to obtain a "certificate of compliance" or what standards would be employed to approve submittals. It was also unclear whether the order covers employee interviews with reporters.

"It's apparent that the National Park Service needs to be reminded again that its employees are American citizens with First Amendment rights," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Aside from its unconstitutionality, this order violates laws that prohibit the use of federal funds for 'non-disclosure' policies that fail to explicitly protect communications to Congress, whistleblower disclosures, and other reports employees make as private citizens."

Last year, PEER represented a ranger from Yellowstone National Park who was given a similar gag order barring off-duty discussion of work-related issues. In settling that case, NPS rescinded the gag order and promised to post a free-speech policy.



OCTOBER 12 -- KIOWA, CO:  Crews worked overnight trying to contain a wildfire that destroyed at least two homes and, according to CNN, prompted evacuations of more than 20 homes. Elbert County Sheriff's Deputy Shayne Heat said winds shifted and pushed the fire through grass and trees in Kiowa, a small town southeast of Denver. A report by thedenverchannel.com said a front came through just after 6 p.m. with gusty winds that pushed the fire through a heavily timbered area. The fire was reported at 2:20 p.m. in a rural wooded area of Elbert County called the Bijou Basin.

More than 10 fire agencies sent units to help fight the blaze, and as many as 30 homes in the area were evacuated. Firefighters were hampered in fighting the fire because water had to be trucked in to the area.

Authorities wanted to talk to several juveniles who were seen near the fire's origin about the time it started.



OCTOBER 11 -- LAKEWOOD, CO:  Airtanker operators told a panel of aviation experts yesterday that problems with government contracts prevent the airtanker industry from modernizing the fleet and maximizing safety. The Denver Post reported that the contracts, usually signed as 3-year deals, are re-evaluated before each fire season. The cost for the Forest Service to contract 44 planes was $13 million to $15 million last year; that's far less than what's needed to maintain a strong safety program, according to Duane Powers, owner of Hawkins & Powers.

The Rocky Mountain News reported that the federal contracts don't pay enough to provide for the modern testing and maintenance essential for safety.

"Safety costs money," said Gene Powers with H&P. "If you deprive someone of funds, they will have to make cuts." He said without the assurance of multi-year agreements, contractors hesitate to perform detailed and costly inspections and upgrades.

"In the past, the Forest Service has gone for the economics in the contracts," said Tom Landon, branch chief for aviation with Region 2 of the Forest Service. "You get what you pay for. To correct this problem, the aerial program will have to pay to upgrade the equipment."

Forest Service Aviation Director Tony Kern said the contractors have a legitimate claim; the fire agencies have used the tanker services for "a very bargain price" over the years. "But it's not the government's responsibility," he said, "to put forth a plan to modernize the aircraft for the industry."

"Ironically, I believe the airtanker industry has done such a good job with old equipment for so long that we all thought it might go on forever," added Kern.

James Hall, who chairs the panel, said that while aircraft owners have a responsibility for safety, so does the federal government when the planes are used to protect public safety. "The government owes one level of responsibility for every individual it puts in harm's way," Hall said.

According to the Billings Gazette, Hall is concerned about what the government is doing to make sure the contracted airplanes are safe to fly. "In giving an assignment, it should be the government's responsibility that they have the proper piece of equipment to do that job," he said.

The panel was commissioned by the chief of the Forest Service and the director of the BLM to analyze the safety and performance of the aerial firefighting industry. The panel has scheduled meetings at Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, and Sacramento. Written comments can be submitted to the panel at the meetings or can be emailed to aviation@fs.fed.us or faxed to (801)517-1021 or mailed to the Aerial Wildland Firefighting Panel at PO Box 221150, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116.



OCTOBER 10 -- SAN DIEGO, CA:  Faced with the driest conditions in recorded history, the Cleveland National Forest will close indefinitely tomorrow because of extreme fire danger.

"Fires this summer have burned with such intensity that they are almost impossible to control," said Forest Supervisor Anne Fege. "We must do everything possible to prevent additional large fires in our forest. Restricting use in remote areas during this time of extreme fire hazard will help to prevent catastrophic wildland fires."

The Sacramento Bee reported that recreational use will be restricted to developed areas where roads allow access for firefighters. No campfires will be allowed on any part of the forest. Remote camping also is prohibited. Hunting will be allowed in the Agua Tibia Wilderness and Indian Flats. The closure does not apply to private lands within the forest; highways and roads will remain open for through traffic only.

The Cleveland is the third major southern California forest to be closed in recent weeks because of fire danger. The San Bernardino was closed last week because of extreme fire conditions there. The entire 650,000-acre Angeles National Forest was closed last month after the Curve Fire there burned more than 20,000 acres and 73 structures.

Current resources on the Cleveland include three hotshot crews, 28 engines, three helicopters, and one airtanker. Additional prevention patrols will be added to supplement staffing levels. This full level of firefighter staffing is planned through Thanksgiving or until substantial rainfall occurs.



OCTOBER 10 -- MESA, AZ:  They say firefighters are all one big family; the bonds among firefighters are legendary and any of them will tell you about it. But several Mesa firefighters recently showed just how deep that family runs when they volunteered to sacrifice a kidney for a co-worker. The Arizona Republic reported that yesterday morning, a 16-year department veteran (who has asked to remain anonymous) underwent more than two hours of surgery to donate a healthy kidney and a new lease on life to Capt. John Delaney. Another veteran Mesa firefighter estimated that the donor was one of 25 who stepped forward.

"That is a tremendous act of love, and it doesn't surprise me that a firefighter would do this," Mesa Fire Chief Dennis Compton said. "And that is an example of how strongly the bond is between firefighters."

Both the donor and Delaney, who have worked together for years, were reported doing well after the transplant. Delaney has received dialysis treatment for nine months and has been suffering from diabetes and hypertension for two years. Other firefighters and their families are pitching in, making meals and providing assistance to Delaney and the donor's families.



OCTOBER 10 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA:  Thousands of trees killed by beetles pose a major fire danger to the mountain resorts of the San Bernardino National Forest, according to an AP story published by the Sacramento Bee. Forestry officials estimate at least 35,000 trees, mostly pines, have died recently from beetle infestations.

"There's at least twice as many trees dying as we had last year," said Jon Regelbrugge, Lands and Resource Officer with the San Bernardino. He mapped tree mortality in San Bernardino and western Riverside counties in late August. The tree deaths pose a serious fire threat in coming weeks if nothing is done; San Bernardino and Riverside counties have each budgeted $300,000 for clearing dead trees from private property. But some residents and forestry experts believe the state and federal governments have not done their part.

"Lake Arrowhead is going to burn down," said Richard Minnich, a fire ecology professor at the University of California, Riverside. But restrictions on the use of federal disaster funds -- and concerns about subsidizing private property owners -- have hampered the efforts of state and federal agencies.

"The beetles have gone wild, in unprecedented numbers," said botanist Tim Krantz, a University of Redlands professor of environmental studies. "I've worked in the forest 25 years, and I've never seen anything like this. I dare say no forester or botanist living has ever seen anything like this in southern California."

"This is a long-term problem," said Jim Wright, CDF deputy director. "They'll have to be cutting these trees forever to get caught up."



OCTOBER 09 -- WASHINGTON, DC:   A House committee approved a bill yesterday to reduce the threat of wildfires, but key Democrats withdrew their support, according to an AP story in the Seattle Times. That leaves uncertain the prospects for wildfire legislation this year. Rep. George Miller of California and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon last week endorsed the legislation, which Republicans had hoped would help move the bill through the Senate. But after intense negotiations, Miller and DeFazio backed out. They said the proposal was too sweeping.

Rep. Scott McInnis of Colorado, who sponsored the bill, said he's committed to continuing negotiations. "In a collaborative effort to reach consensus," McInnis said last week, "my staff and I have sat down for several hours a day for the past few weeks to hammer out a consensus plan to address the threat of wildfire, working with longtime environmental proponents like Representatives George Miller and Peter DeFazio." He explained that the amendment applies to fuels reduction projects on National Forest and BLM lands. It is limited to lands in the wildland/urban interface, municipal watersheds, T&E species habitat, and lands where forest health is threatened by windthrow, blowdown, large-scale disease, or insect infestation.

House and Senate Republicans have joined President Bush in demanding accelerated fuels reduction projects, but Democrats and environmentalists argue that the proposals undermine environmental protections and would benefit timber companies. The McInnis proposal would streamline environmental studies and tighten deadlines for appeals.



OCTOBER 09 -- SANTA BARBARA, CA:  Twenty hotshots based at the Los Prietos Ranger Station on the Los Padres National Forest are in the middle of the latest in a long series of sexual harassment controversies within the Forest Service in California. According to a report by the L.A. Times, the Forest Service is trying to figure out what to do about some photos of "scantily clad" women in the hotshots' crew buggies.

Forest Supervisor Jeanine Derby, meanwhile, was tagged for investigation in a report released yesterday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The report concludes that Derby should be investigated for her "hostility" to historic preservation and her "retaliation against outspoken cultural resources personnel."

Photos in the hotshots' crew buggyA complaint about the photos in the Los Padres Hotshots' crew buggies was filed with local supervisors September 17 and was backed up with photographic evidence secretly taken.

Lesa Donnelly worked for the Forest Service for 22 years before resigning from the agency earlier this year. She was until June also a member of the regional monitoring council that tracks the agency's approach to sexual harassment claims.

"The pictures have given us tangible evidence of what we have been saying for years," she said. "The tone is set by management, and there are sexual harassment issues all over California." Donnelly said the Los Padres has one of the biggest problems, and that the hotshots are not professional. "They have brought shame on the entire Forest Service," she said.

Almost two weeks after the complaint about the photos in the buggies, Regional Forester Jack Blackwell called the photos offensive and added that "this behavior is intolerable." Last week he ordered one-hour sessions for all 8,300 agency personnel in California "to ensure that all employees understand our zero-tolerance policy."

Monitoring council members with SmokeyAccording to Donnelly, nobody on the crew at Los Prietos had objected to the photos, including the one female crew member. But Blackwell said that wasn't the issue, and he ordered all agency managers to report back by the end of the week that no inappropriate material existed anywhere.

But that wasn't enough for Donnelly and other entrenched critics. She said it took almost two weeks for Blackwell to announce his actions. "He's not doing anything to work with us to get the supervisors to really take this seriously," she said. "At Los Prietos, one supervisor started off by telling everybody she knew they all worked hard and played hard. That wasn't the tone to take. It was a way of winking and saying, 'I really don't care.'" Donnelly says the crew should be disbanded and management officials disciplined or replaced. Along with the secretly taken pictures of the semi-nude photos, there were photographs inside the crew barracks showing stacks of six-packs of beer.

"They really think they are the hottest thing around, and they act like they are a bunch of frat boys," Donnelly said. "They also have started intimidating people since this controversy started. I am going to ask Forest Service officials in Washington that they be removed for the safety of the people they think are talking about them."

"I am afraid somebody is going to get hurt, and it could be me," said Janine McFarland, an archaeologist who says she was removed from a Chumash Indian project because of her complaints. "I'm very concerned for my safety."

Los Padres National ForestDuring the past 30 years, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press, the Forest Service in California has been the target of four class-action lawsuits for failing to hire and promote women and minorities. Today, 190 discrimination and sexual harassment complaints against the agency are under investigation in Washington, D.C. -- more than for any other forest region in the country. Sixty percent of the claims were filed by women employees.

Over the last three years, 26 Los Padres employees have filed 58 claims of harassment and reprisal against Derby and other forest managers. McFarland has filed at least 15 of the claims and said she felt vindicated by the discovery of the photos. "We've been trying to say all of this is going on," she said. "This is the environment we live in and what management fosters in their attitude towards women."

The Sacramento Bee reported that forest employees claim the Los Padres National Forest is being neglected and damaged, and they fear retaliation if they decide to complain, according to an 18-page report by a national watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The report blames Forest Supervisor Jeanine Derby, and says she has violated federal law by promoting recreational uses of the forest at the expense of its cultural resources. It describes how Forest archaeologists disclosed numerous violations to the State Office of Historic Preservation in the mid-1990s. Derby and other Forest leaders allegedly retaliated against the whistleblowers, relieving them of their responsibilities and replacing them with less experienced but obedient employees.

"These things disappoint me because there are other avenues for employees to take their complaints," said Derby, who denied the accusations.

Former employees and volunteers, some anonymous, were critical of management's attempt at forest preservation. Derby's supervisors say she is doing a good job.

"At the regional office we are confident that Los Padres National Forest will work through these controversies," said Matt Mathes, media relations officer at the regional office. "Jeanine is a fine forest supervisor and she has a challenging job. These forests are often over 1 million acres and people care passionately about what happens there."



OCTOBER 02 -- KALISPELL, MT:  Buildups of hazardous fuels and increasing development in the wildland/urban interface are the root causes of rising fire suppression costs, a study commissioned by Congress concludes. The National Academy of Public Administration in Washington, DC, yesterday released its study, according to a report by the Daily Inter Lake. The report includes case studies of six fires from summer 2001.

The panel concluded that there are no easy budgetary fixes for fire costs that have jumped dramatically over the last decade. Studies that find ways to trim costs don't make a significant difference; wildfires now are bigger and threatening more homes than ever before, said Bruce McDowell, the academy's study coordinator.

"Budget cuts become fiction by the time you get to reality in the fire season," McDowell said. "If you look at the overall issue and the size of it, it's not really susceptible to direct attack, to put it in fire terms. We didn't think you could do a whole lot there. We think an indirect attack, where you go after your root causes, will pay off in the long run."

Costs in the year 2000 reached an unprecedented $1 billion, and rose to $1.6 billion this year.

"The two primary causes are the massive accumulation of hazardous fuels in the nation's wildlands and the increasing community development occurring in and near them," the report says. Prolonged drought is also a major but uncontrollable factor in big-spending fire years. The panel recommends requiring local fire protection efforts to meet certain standards, with the incentive of receiving money from the National Fire Plan and the new FEMA disaster mitigation program.

The report also recommends streamlined procedures for fuels reduction projects, and the panel said the focus should be on high-hazard areas inside and closest to a community, including municipal watersheds. The study was requested by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees through the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior.



OCTOBER 08 -- SKYKOMISH, WA:  The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will be filling two positions for GS-7 Assistant Zone Fire Management Officer; one position is located in Darrington and the other position is at Skykomish. These position will be advertised under both Merit Promotion and Demo, and this is the second outreach for the positions. Duties include assisting the Zone Fire Management Officer with fire and fuels management activities. Responsibilities include preparedness, training, supervision, and direction of zone fire suppression and fuels resources, along with upkeep and maintenance of fire suppression equipment. Persons in these positions also assist the FMO in other training, situation and availability reporting, maintaining training records, scheduling training, work capacity testing, fire refresher training, fire reviews, and RAWS maintenance. Announcements for this position will be posted on the OPM website under series 0462, and an outreach notice is online in WORD format. For more information call Dave Johnson at (425)744-3510 or email him at dfjohnson@fs.fed.us



OCTOBER 08 -- MORGAN HILL, CA:   Almost two weeks after the Croy Fire burned through the mountains and hillsides they call home, local residents gathered at the community's volunteer fire station Sunday; they discussed the need for more firefighting resources, improving communications, and homeowners' responsibility for defensible space.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that the meeting took place the day after fire managers declared Santa Clara County's third-largest wildfire fully controlled. The Croy Fire burned more than 3,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Morgan Hill and destroyed 34 homes.

Residents who gathered at the Ormsby fire house talked about ways to improve communication so fire personnel have a better chance of controlling a fire before it gets away. Volunteer departments are often the first to respond because they're the closest, but by linking with fire personnel from CDF they can combine resources and be more effective, said Libby Sofer, who works with the Ormsby Fire brigade.

Those gathered also talked of the need for residents to take responsibility for maintaining the areas around their homes. "It's the homeowner's responsibility to clear the property," said Sofer. She said a second meeting on October 15 will include speakers from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the American Red Cross, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention as well as Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, who represents residents in the fire-ravaged area.

The Croy Fire caused more than $4.4 million in damage. There were no deaths and only 10 minor injuries to fire personnel. The fire involved more than 2,000 firefighters, 120 engines, and 13 helicopters. It cost $8.8 million.



OCTOBER 02 -- SUSANVILLE, CA:  The Cone Fire that started September 26 on the Lassen National Forest is providing wildland fire experts and forestry researchers a good look at the effects of fuels reduction treatments on an active wildfire -- and the fire's effects on the forest ecosystem.

High-intensity burn on the Cone Fire

Areas of the Cone Fire where fuels reduction projects had not occurred experienced high-intensity burns, with a high mortality of trees as shown above. In the photo below, many trees have survived the low-intensity burns common across areas of the forest that were thinned and treated with prescribed fire.

Low-intensity burn on the Cone Fire
A number of projects of prescribed fire and thinning were completed on the Lassen prior to the fire's start. The Cone Fire also burned on the Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest, which was created in 1934 to study extensive pine forest ecosystems.

The Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest is an active research project and is one of the few forests in the country with more than 50 years of recorded data. Experimental treatments were conducted on 12 plots of 250 acres each. The plots were mechanically thinned, and half were treated with prescribed fire. About 1,600 acres of the 2,000-acre Cone Fire burned in the Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest.

The Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Station scientist Bill Oliver, along with Eagle Lake District Ranger Bob Andrews and District Silviculturist Al Vazquez, surveyed the burned portions of the experimental forest. They reported that high-intensity burns occurred in areas of the forest that had not been treated. The timber stands that were thinned or prescribed-burned or both, though, saw mostly low-intensity ground fire, resulting in lower tree mortality. The fuels reduction treatments slowed down -- and in some cases even stopped -- the fire.

Oliver said that the Cone Fire gives scientists an opportunity to evaluate and record the effects of the fuels treatments on areas later burned by wildfire. In November, Oliver will bring a scientific team to the burned treatment areas to assess the effects.

"We need to analyze the treated and untreated areas that burned and document those findings," said Oliver.

Tours of the area can be arranged by calling Cone Fire Information at (530)257-3719 or the Susanville Interagency Fire Center at (530)257-5575. The Cone Fire website is online courtesy of the Lassen National Forest, and more information on the Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest is online at redding.psw.fs.fed.us/bmef.html



SEPTEMBER 30 -- DENVER, CO:  Fall has come to the high country in Colorado, along with a half million hunters and campers and hikers, but the state's fire danger is a long ways from over. Though Gov. Bill Owens recently lifted a statewide ban on open burning, that doesn't apply to some Forest Service and BLM lands. After a drought like the state experienced this year, reported the Rocky Mountain News, fire managers are still on the alert as hundreds of thousands of people head for the high country.

"We've had some good rains, especially in the southern part of the state, but north of Interstate 70 things are still extremely dry," said Denise Tomlin, a fire prevention specialist for the Forest Service. "A lot of times people think once the heat of the summer is over, the fire danger is over. But many major fires have taken place in September and October."

Todd Malmsbury with the state Division of Wildlife said they expect 500,000 hunters in the hills between September and mid-December. "A number of them will be from out of state, and may not be aware of the drought this year," he said. The agencies are posting signs about dry conditions and fire danger in government offices and sporting goods stores. "We have posted fire information along with our regular big game information on our website," Malmsbury said. "Hunters can log on to www.wildlife.state.co.us, click on hunting and then on the fire info section."

Tomlin said agencies are concerned about not just campfire escapes, but also ignitions caused by ATVs and 4-wheel-drive vehicles that are used off-road and in dry grasses. He said they are reminding people not to park vehicles on tall, dry grass or duff because catalatic converters are extremely hot and can ignite dry materials.



SEPTEMBER 29 -- RENO, NV:  The aging aircraft that fight wildfires under federal contract for the Forest Service have been under scrutiny before. But none of the audits or probes or letters had the impact of the horror caught by a Reno television news crew this summer when an airtanker's wings snapped off in mid-air. The video of the plane plunging to the ground in flames, killing all three men on board, transfixed television viewers nationwide.

A month after the June 17 crash near Walker, California, another airtanker crashed near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, killing both crew members. An Associated Press story in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a newly created "blue ribbon panel" is conducting a thorough review of the agency's aerial firefighting program. The NTSB said shortly after the crashes this summer that fatigue cracks were found in the wings of both planes, and investigators are looking closely at the cracks and other safety issues to determine whether they caused the wings to fail. This month, NTSB officials said preliminary tests showed metal fatigue was not evident over the entire wing in either plane, but that crack detection techniques may have been unreliable.

Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has charged the new panel with reviewing "safety, operational effectiveness, costs, sustainability and strategic guidance." The panel plans to collect input at regional meetings. Besides the five remaining C-130As in the fleet, the agency also is reviewing other firefighting aircraft, including the 19 Beechcraft Barons it owns for use as lead planes.

The panel has scheduled meetings at Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, and Sacramento. Written comments can be submitted to the panel at the meetings or can be emailed to aviation@fs.fed.us or faxed to (801)517-1021 or mailed to the Aerial Wildland Firefighting Panel at PO Box 221150, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116.



SEPTEMBER 28 -- HOOD RIVER, OR:  Forest fires near Bridal Veil and Estacada were nearly contained yesterday, slowed in part by cooler and more humid weather, according to a report by the Oregonian. The 285-acre Bowl Fire near Estacada should be fully contained by this evening, thanks to a fresh infusion of about 100 firefighters, calm weather, high humidity, and a successful burnout yesterday afternoon.

Scott Springer investigates the origin of the Oneonta FireJimmye Turner, information officer with the Type 2 team managing the Bowl Fire, said the fire was 95 percent contained yesterday, with 392 firefighters on the fire. Two dozers cut line on a relatively flat ridge on the southwest portion of the fire, and firefighters in the afternoon climbed down steep canyon slopes with driptorches to burn out the perimeter.

"They very doggedly kept after the burnout to keep it going," Turner said. Predicted east winds never arrived.

In the Columbia River Gorge, firefighters were mopping up the Oneonta Fire, which was still less than an acre in size.

The fire started near Bridal Veil on Thursday, about five miles east of Multnomah Falls, said Stan Hinatsu with the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Hinatsu said the fire was human-caused, but that officials were still investigating; the fire started in a 20-foot-high pile of logs that had accumulated in the gorge after washing over a waterfall during rainstorms.



SEPTEMBER 27 -- GRANTS PASS, OR:  As southern Oregon's Biscuit Fire smolders toward control, family members of a former Redding, California, man missing in the area still wait for news of his fate. The fire, the largest in Oregon's history, was contained earlier this month. Family members of Michael Woods, according to a report in the Redding Record-Searchlight, believe that somewhere in the 499,570-acre fire area is the 32-year-old missing hiker, who set out on a backpacking trip to the coast two days before the fire started in July.

Missing hiker Mike WoodsHe hasn't been seen since.

"They said that if he's out there, there's just no way he could make it out," said Woods' sister-in-law Jenny Woods of Shasta Lake. "We're just sitting and waiting and hoping." A U.S. Army veteran who served in the Gulf War, Woods worked as a logger for eight years and was between jobs when he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream by attempting a long-distance trek. He left Miami Bar on the Illinois River on July 11, bound for the coast near Brookings, a two- or three-week hike. But lightning sparked the Biscuit Fire on July 13, and flames took off across his intended route.

Law enforcement officials until recently were kept out of the area by the growing fire and clouds of smoke. But as firefighters got a handle on the blaze, officials were able to search by helicopter, and a rescue team checked the river.

They found nothing. "It's a large area, and some places where he may have been got burned pretty good," said Josephine County Sheriff's Lt. Brian Anderson. "Some areas look like the moon."

The Biscuit Fire website has photos and information on Woods; he's described as 6 feet tall and about 170 lbs. with dark brown hair and blue/green eyes. He was last seen July 9 at Miami Bar on the Illinois River; please contact Josephine County Emergency Management at (541)474-5300 if you have information.