Vermont Fire Fighters Head for Washington

by Deborah Graham

Twenty Vermonters flew out of Logan Airport Wednesday night, headed for a forest fire raging out of control in Washington. The 17 men aad three women, from as far south as Manchester, and as far north as St. Johnsbury, were summoned early Wednesday morning to help fight a blaze which has now spread over 3,500 acres la the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Vancouver, Wash.

Members of the state Department of Forest and Park and the U.S. Forest Service, the Vermonters were part of a 1OOO man crew called in by Washington authorities to help battle the fire.

Fanned by 70-mile-per-hour winds, the fire "exploded" Tuesday night through stands of old growth timber when a burning log rolled down a slope and ignited "red slash," forest, spokesman Jim Unterwegser said.

Forestry officials brought in a 200-man fire-fighting force, three retardant bombers and three helicopters. Then they issued the call for 10OO additional fire fighters, who were expected to be on the lines late Wednesday and early Thursday.

Forest officials had no projection for when the fire would be contained, and the Vermont fire fighters piling onto Vermont Transit bus in the Rutjand Post Oftice parking lot Wednesday afternoon had no idea when they'd be back.

"When we're coming back? Hell, I don't even know where we're going," joked one man on the bus Wednesday. The only orders he'd gotten, he said, were to be at the bus that afternoon to join a crew going west to fight a forest fire.

"I only found out I was going this morning," said another man. "Up until now, I thought we were going to California."

The confusion may be understandable. The west from Idaho to Oregon; Washington to California has been plagued with forest fires this year. Coming we on top of another, the crackling blazes have eaten up tens of thousands of acres of Northwestern timberland in this summer alone.

This is the second time this year Vermonters have been called to assist in fighting the fires. In August, crew spent almost a week helping to contain a fire in Montana.

Most of the people on the crew Wednesday were young. Although all Forest Service workers are trained in fighting fires, no one is forced to go on the out-of-state jobs. As such, most of the people on the crew were volunteers.

According to Forest Service officials, the Vermont crew traveled by bus to Boston, where they flew to Harrisburg, Pa., to pick up more fire fighters. From Pennsylvania, they planned to travel straight to Portland, Ore., where they will be assigned to a sector of the blaze.

Those making the trip from Vermont were: Allen Noble, crew boss, and Sam Bunge, Dick Galotti and Brace Reid, all squad bosses.

Also, fire fighters Frank Thompson. John Griffith, Nancy Iwanicki, Keith Fish, Eleanor Spear, Curt Montgomery, Stan Blair, Mark Stephens, Bill Day, Susan Toch, Tom Paquette and Jim Kenfsinr.

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Updated 2008/02/07 13:45:20 by Scott Bishop, Olympia's volunteer webguy...