Santa Rosa Press Democrat
July 2, 2008
UKIAH -- About 200 federal firefighters are en route to Mendocino County to join in the ongoing battle to contain wildfires that have burned nearly 40,000 acres and still threaten 900 rural residences.
With the federal buildup, nearly 2,000 local, state and federal personnel soon will be engaged in what's proving to be a long and costly fight.
In addition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered 200 National Guard troops to report for fire training to relieve crews in undetermined locations early next week.
It marks the first time the Guard has been asked to send soldiers to join ground-based fire fights since 1977, a Guard spokesman said.
Firefighting costs in Mendocino County are running at least $1 million a day, according to state officials.
Losses of private property, especially valuable commercial stands of timber, are running at least as high.
"There are fires burning across 15,600 acres of our timberlands," said Mike Jani, chief forester for Mendocino Redwood. The company is the county's biggest private property owner with 228,000 acres of timberland in the core of fire country.
"Firefighting and mop-up efforts are probably going to go on for weeks, maybe even months," he said.
Redwood trees, the prized commercial wood product on the North Coast, are typically more resistant to fire damage because of their thick bark, But younger redwoods are vulnerable if subjected to intensely hot fires.
Jani said Tuesday it's too early to assess losses because company crews haven't been able to count the standing timber in burn areas.
He declined comment on speculation among local timber industry leaders that the timber losses could be running as high as $2 million a day.
"We know there are timber-growing areas that are probably complete losses. They're toast," Jani said.
The large number of lightning-caused Mendocino fires, which were started 11 days ago, ranks the county among the top three areas of concern in the state along with Big Sur and Butte County.
About 1,000 firefighters from various federal agencies nationwide, such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, are going to be deployed across California.
They will join nearly 19,000 personnel already waging a campaign across Northern California to check hundreds of wildfires that have burned an estimated 425,000 acres.
Also joining in the battle are 776 members of the California Conservation Corps, the largest firefighting contingent in the youth agency's 32-year-history. About 33 of the firefighters are from the corps facility in Ukiah.
By the end of the day Tuesday, fire crews in Mendocino County had gained significant ground, but only about 40 percent of burning fires had been contained. Major fires in areas near Rockport, Greenfield Ranch and Leggett continued to grow in size and intensity, according to Cal Fire representatives.
Firefighters Tuesday were aided by improving smoke conditions, which for the first time allowed air tankers and fire-fighting helicopters to drop flame retardant and water on fires throughout the day.
"We're hitting them pretty hard now," said Battalion Chief Chris Avina, head of Cal Fire's air attack base at Charles Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Air quality conditions were improving in most of Mendocino and Lake counties, but health officials still advised local residents to exercise caution.
Shifting winds caused smoke to move into areas where it previously had not been a problem, and overnight temperature inversions continued to pose air quality problems in the Ukiah, Anderson, Little Lake, Potter and Round valleys.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.