• 59°

Local firefighters helping battle blazes out West

Four employees of Wayne National Forest's Ironton Ranger District are out west helping fight forest fires as part of an Ohio interagency crew.

Nelson Krueger, Scottie Kiser and Bill Scripp from the Ironton Ranger Station have been in Oregon since July 17. They are expected to return tomorrow. Ben Eby, also of Ironton, is in California and will not return until September.

The group in Lakeview, Ore. are working as a part of a 20-person hand crew that is building fire lines and making sure areas aren't still burning. The Tool Box Fire is several small fires that have become one, said John Crockett, assistant fire management officer for the Wayne National Forest.

The Tool Box Fire began July 12 because of lightning and now encompasses more than 85,000 acres.

"We have been sending a steady flow of people to support the West," he said.

"Every day we are doing more things cooperatively. It makes things easier, as far as sharing resources."

Personnel in a wide variety of positions have already completed assignments and six or seven more will go to help after these men return, he said.

The work can be dangerous, but they take many safety measures to mitigate the risk, Crockett said.

"All the National Forest personnel are pitching in. They need all the help they can get," Jane Huff, public information officer at the Ironton District, said. "The men really want to go help out."

Since January 1, 4.1 million acres of land -- including more than a million acres of National Forests -- have been ravaged by forest fires.

"These are the highest levels in history, considering there are months of fire season still," Ken Arbogast, a spokesman for the Wayne National Forest, said.

The West is under a Level Five alert, the highest possible.

Because of the severe fire season, the USDA Forest Service expects a budget shortfall of more than $750 million. Planned projects are being postponed throughout the country including in the Wayne National Forest's Lake Vesuvius.

"Projects are postponed and we won't be able to finish things as we would like," Mike Baines, Ironton District ranger, said. "Everyone can agree with the west burning and homes being destroyed, our boardwalk is of little concern."

The dam and spillway will still be completed as scheduled in August because they were so close to completion, he said. Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune