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Front Page » July 4, 2002 » Local News » School serves as fire command center
Published 4,443 days ago

School serves as fire command center


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By KAREN BASSO
Staff reporter


With crews fighting a wildfire nearby, emergency agency personnel focus on setting up a command center at Sally Mauro Elementary School in Helper. The center will serve as a quiet getaway station and allow fire teams to rest, eat as well as shower after the long hours the crew members spend battling the blaze in the Price Canyon area.

U.S. Highway 6 has been lined with cars for the past several days. The vehicles are not occupied by travelers, but onlookers interested in viewing the damage created by the fire ignited Sunday afternoon in Price Canyon.

The spectators are causing traffic concerns for law enforcement officers. When stopping on the side of the roadway, motorists should use extreme caution. But officials indicate that the best thing to do refrain from interfering with traffic flow on U.S. 6.

According to incident management authorities, the Price Canyon blaze was 75 percent contained and had burned approximately 3,200 acres as of Wednesday afternoon.

Fire fighters continued to work throughout the day, using ground crews, helicopters and bulldozers in attempts to fully contain the blaze.

Several helicopters swooped between the mountain ravines, dropping water on hot spots. The helicopters were vital in fighting the fire because many of the hot spots were located in the steep crevasses of the mountain sides where it was difficult to send ground crews without putting the teams in serious danger.

The helicopters worked Tuesday, with each bucket holding 120 gallons of water. The choppers are allowed to fly only eight hours a day, but the time was significant in the fight of the large blaze.

Bulldozers were also busy throughout the area providing fire breaks. Dozer crews have worked continuously on the effort and provided crucial assistance in battling the blaze.

The day the blaze ignited, it is estimated that 2,500 acres were engulfed in the fiery inferno. Fire crews responded quickly and eliminated the chance of thousands of more acres being destroyed. Through the combined efforts of the chopper, dozer and ground crews, the fire has been significantly contained.

Fire fighters from Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho are currently stationed in the area and continue to focus on eliminating the blaze. Fire crews responding to the Price Canyon blaze include 161 personnel, 11 engines, two helicopters, three bulldozers and three water tenders.

A nearby fire in the Rattle Complex continued to burn 20 miles northeast of Green River and had grown to 60,000 acres. The blaze was 10 percent contained on Wednesday. The fire had grown about 6,000 acres on Tuesday and there has been no sign of the blaze slowing down.

Fire fighters made significant progress south of Rock Camp Ridge by building lines using dozers. The fire continued to burn on the southern portion in Bear Canyon and near Cottonwood Point.

In the west and east, fire growth was moderate. Crews monitored fire activity from the air due to inaccessibility.

The scene was expected to be unmanned Wednesday due to expected extreme fire behavior, strong and erratic wind conditions and serious accessibility problems. The situation would eliminate the chances of injuries occurring to crews working in the area. So far, no injuries have been sustained.

The resources currently in use at Rattle Complex include 388 personnel, seven crews, five helicopters, five engines, six water tenders, and three bulldozers.

The roads in Buck Canyon, Kings Wells Canyon, Indian Springs Canyon, Middle Canyon, and East Canyon have all been closed for fire fighter and public safety. All public lands including state trust lands and State of Utah Division of Forestry lands also remain closed in the Book Cliff area.

Crews are concerned with the resources which are threatened in the area including spotted owls, cattle, oil and gas facilities, logging operations and several isolated ranch homes located just outside the perimeter of the fire. Every effort will be made to ensure that these resources are protected to the best of the fire crews abilities.

While the crews are working in the area, a command center has been established to accommodate to the needs of the fire fighters. A center is currently established in Fruita, Colo., for teams fighting the Rattle Complex blaze.

The command center officially began operation Tuesday afternoon at Sally Mauro Elementary in Helper for crews working on the Price Canyon fire. At the center, crews are able to eat, sleep, and shower and are supplied with new equipment. The center is a getaway of sorts for the crews who have worked under extreme conditions for 12-16 hours at a time.

The dry and hot conditions not only take their toll on natural resources, but also on the fire crews. By the time the fire fighters reach the camp, exhaustion begins to set in.

The command center is under the direction of Casey's type II Eastern Great Basin incident management team. At this center, crews are required to check in. After this process is through, the fire fighter may then participate in any of the activities offered at the center.

Many of the fire fighters simply want to shower, eat, and sleep. They may do so with the help of the catering team and the 18 mobile indoor showers that are located at the command center.

While staying at the center, fire crews are able to sleep outdoors in tents. Although the ground may be hard, the rest is much needed for the tired fire crews.

According to the command centers incident management director Bert Hart, the facility came into town over night. "We were set up at a separate fire and got the word that we were needed in Helper. We packed up and moved into town with all the equipment and have set up command here on short notice," Hart explained.

The command center is important for crews battling large blazes. Typically, command center crews are not sent to a fire unless it is a priority fire and one which is expected to require large crews to battle.

The Price Canyon fire is one with much emphasized importance because of the natural resources which are located nearby. With gas and coal facilities in danger, fire crews are working hard to containing the blaze as rapidly as possible to ensure these resources remain safe and unharmed.

In the process of battling this blaze, fire fighters are exerting energy. In order to remain in top condition, workers are required to consume two gallons of water and 7,000 calories a day. At the command center, these workers are able to receive the proper nutrients needed to stay in proper health.

Fire crews are also able to stock up on new supplies. Some of these supplies include canteens, clothes, and fire-fighting tools. Anything that is not available at the center can be ordered and will reach the center within 24 hours. The fire fighter is the top priority at the center.

When disaster hits an area, often times the community offers all the support they can to the workers. The command center suggests that the best thing the public can do is show their support through signs or cards that can be displayed in windows, on fences, or sent to the command center.

The problem with residents visiting the center is that fire crews are moving in and out of the center on a regular basis. Crews work through the day and night, therefore fire fighters are constantly located at the center receiving the care and rest they need. With visitors coming through the area, it is difficult for the teams to receive this care, therefore residents are advised to support the crews from afar.

The desire of each fire fighter is to contain the blaze as quickly as possible. In order to do so, many factors must fall in place including weather conditions. It is expected that lightning will pass through the area along with wind which may make conditions worse for the fire crews.

With the Price Canyon blaze 70 percent contained, it is expected that the fire will soon be fully under control, weather permitting.


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