Alaskans sent to Lower 48 to help with wildfires

Resources short in state as help sent to Lower 48, but situation not seen as dangerous

Posted: Sunday, August 06, 2000

As large swaths of the West burn, Alaskans are helping to beat back the flames.

Across the West on Saturday, about 70 large fires were burning on more than 747,100 acres, according to the National Fire Information Center. The biggest, in Idaho, had charred at least 102,000 acres near the Montana border.

More than 1,000 Alaskans are helping to battle the blazes, said Wayne Bushnell, regional fire program manger for the U.S. Forest Service.

One of them was Juneau's Sheela McLean. She got back Wednesday after spending nine days helping with the 23,000-acre blaze at Mesa Verde National Forest in Colorado. On Friday, she said she was still recovering from the work. As a communications officer, she helped with public relations.

``We had intense media interest -- national and international,'' she said. ``We were in lots of smoke. It was a busy time.''

Though she wasn't on the front lines, she saw the aftereffects of the fire, which will probably keep smoking until the well-contained fire is sprinkled with snow when the seasons change, she said.

McLean's pretty sure she'll be leaving for the Lower 48 again on Monday. There are plenty of other fires burning in the West.

While she and the other Alaskans are away, she said, Alaska's work isn't getting done. It may take a bit longer for the Forest Service to respond to public requests until the blazes are under control.

``We ask for tolerance and support,'' she said.

Alaska isn't in any special danger because it's sharing people with the Lower 48, said Bushnell, the fire program manager. There are still plenty of firefighters here, he said Friday.

``We still have firefighters up here,'' he said. ``We still have smoke jumpers in the Interior of Alaska. We have helicopter crews, engine crews.''

It's not unusual, he said, for Alaska firefighters to join battles in the Lower 48. July is Alaska's most dangerous fire month, then things tend to get wet, he said. Come August, it's pretty normal for Alaskans to head south to help out, he said.

``We're at a very low fire danger right now,'' Bushnell said.

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