Monday, August 21, 2000

Ohioans help fight wildfires in West

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — In the Garnet Range deep in the Montana wilderness, 20 Ohioans are helping battle the worst U.S. wildfires in 50 years.

        “Every now and then you get a grass fire in Columbus, but nothing like this,” George Gulick of Columbus told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday. “Guys can go years without seeing what we've seen in just a few days.”

        The crew, led by Bill Serbonich of Albany in Southeast Ohio, is among more than 20,000 firefighters battling about 70,000 wildfires that have burned 5.2 million acres so far this year in the West. There are 37 major fires in Montana.

        The Ohioans are spending two weeks fighting a 17,500-acre fire 35 miles southeast of Missoula in Ryan Gulch.

        On Thursday, Rob Green of Portsmouth, Ohio, paused from hacking apart a smoldering stump.

        “Look at that color,” he said. “Those trees are going to torch any second.”

        And sure enough, nine ignited.

        Millions of sap-rich conifers already have burned. They catch fire when surface fires creep up to their dry or dead branches and ignite their needles. Trees explode like firecrackers and burn from the top down.

        The Ohioans are expected to stay through Saturday. With crews in short supply, many firefighters and some commanders have been asked to extend their two-week duty.


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