Firefighters killed when engine rolls into ravine

Monday, July 29, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A fire engine fighting wildfires in the Klamath National Forest tumbled 800 feet off a steep, dirt road into a ravine Sunday, killing three firefighters, officials said.

Two others survived the plunge and were airlifted to the Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Ca., said Brian Harris, a the U.S. Forest Service spokesman. Their conditions were not known. The five firefighters were returning from a 620-acre fire near the extreme northern California town of Happy Camp at about 2 a.m. when the truck rolled off the ravine, he said.

"Indications are they rolled in the worst possible place. It's safe to say they rolled the entire 800 feet," over rocky and partially wooded terrain, he said.

The about 400 firefighters working the fires retreated Sunday and let the blaze burn unchecked, Harris said. No homes were threatened. The deaths brought to 12 the number of firefighters killed while fighting blazes in the West this summer.

Meanwhile, a wildfire near the Columbia River port town of The Dalles had grown to 12,000 acres Sunday.

and burned to within inches of some rural buildings.

Crews had the fire about 55 percent contained but gusty wind periodically kicked up the flames.

"The fire is continuing to pose serious control problems," said Peg Foster, an Oregon Department of Forestry information officer.

The blaze grew by 3,000 acres during the night, officials said.

Residents of 250 homes had been urged to evacuate since the lightning-started fire flared Thursday and spread into rural subdivisions about three miles south of The Dalles. In some places, flames burned to within 2 miles of town.

Stiff wind pushed the fire toward Bonneville Power Administration power lines during the night, Foster said.

The power lines might have to be switched off if dense smoke threatens to create short circuits between the wires and the ground, endangering firefighters, she said.

Two outbuildings had burned.

Fire managers said Sunday they hoped to stop the fire from creeping down a hillside toward The Dalles. However, the town was not considered threatened.

In California's Sierra Nevada, a blaze in and around Giant Sequoia National Monument had grown to 66,000 acres Sunday, after burning an additional 1,600 acres during the night.

The ancient sequoia trees weren't completely safe but firefighters had minimized the threat, said fire information officer Jill Slater.

"They're really getting a handle on it," she said.

The wildfire was 30 percent contained.

There was no telling when residents evacuated from Ponderosa, Johnsondale and other areas near the sequoias might be able to return, fire officials said. At least 10 structures had burned and 200 were threatened.

A woman was arraigned Friday on charges of starting the fire, about 130 miles north of Los Angeles, while cooking over an illegal campfire.

Thirty-one major fires still active on Sunday around the West and in Alaska had burned about 491,000 acres, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.


On the Net:

Northwest Interagency Coordination Center:

National Interagency Fire Center:

Sequoia National Park:

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