55 Marylanders set to help fight forest fire in Nev. Crew to leave today for two-week mission

September 02, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Ernest F. Imhoff contributed to this article.

Instead of enjoying a backyard Labor Day picnic or soaking up sun at the beach, dozens of Marylanders will be heading for a far less comfortable destination today -- a Nevada wildfire.

The two-week mission will send 60 people from Maryland and Delaware to battle a raging forest fire in northern Nevada.

"We try to prepare folks mentally as to what to expect -- and train them in all the safety guidelines and survival [techniques]," said Alan Zentz, state fire supervisor for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fire Service.

The U.S. Forest Service asked the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fire Service for help early yesterday. A few hours later, Zentz was on the telephone, enlisting volunteers.

The crews were to assemble at 1 a.m. today at the state's Madonna ranger station near Bel Air, Zentz said. By 7 a.m., the group was to meet 60 volunteers from nearby states and head for Nevada to tackle the "Quinn fire" near the south fork of the Quinn River at the northern end of the Santa Rosa mountain range and Humboldt National Forest.

Tom Reid, dispatch center and aviation manager in Winnemucca, Nev., for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, said 288 firefighters were fighting the blaze yesterday. He noted that it had doubled in size this weekend, and at 57,000 acres appeared to be the largest fire raging in the tinder-dry state.

To volunteer, the crew of 55 Marylanders and five Delaware residents passed basic firefighter training, a physical exertion test and four days of forest fire training. Half the crews are volunteer firefighters, the other half foresters and other field staff from the Department of Natural Resources, Zentz said.

Some of the volunteers will be battling their first forest fire. It is an intense job, particularly for firefighters trained to deal with contained house blazes and car fires.

Crews must be aware of a range of variables in fighting forest fires, such as subtle changes in weather that can worsen a blaze or an amber hint of flame in blowing plumes of smoke indicating sparks and cinders that could spread spot fires.

"We don't see anything like what's out there -- it's just unbelievable," said Lew Woolf, 57, a retired Baltimore County firefighter who lives in Lutherville. As a volunteer, Woolf fought zTC wildfires in Idaho, Montana and Long Island in the past few years.

"There's nothing to compare this to," he said. "You'll just be standing there, and you'll hear an explosion and a 120-foot tree will have just burst into flames. In half a minute, it's gone."

Marylanders have been helping battle Western wildfires since 1974 and already have pitched in this year.

Zentz said two 20-person Maryland crews and David Gailey of Charles County, who had gone out independently as a firefighting team leader, returned home safely last week after a two-week engagement on the fire front in the Umatilla National Forest in eastern Oregon.

Louise Upole of Garrett County is scheduled to fly today to work at the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho, dispatching national firefighting squads to the 40 large fires raging in seven Western states. Ron Abbott of Princess Anne began directing a forest fire team of engine drivers in a major blaze near Elko, Nev., on Wednesday.

Both are rangers with the Department of Natural Resources.

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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