Ohio fire crews out west fighting wildfires

Jane BeathardTwo crews of specially trained Ohioans are among the nearly 18,000 wildfire fighters battling more than 50 "named" fires in the West during the third week of August.

One 20-man crew left Ohio on Aug. 15 for the Corral Complex Fire in Six Rivers National Forest in northern California. Another crew left Aug. 24 for the Salmon River Complex Fire in California's Klamath National Forest.

The Corral fire consumed 5,961 acres and was 0 percent contained on Aug. 21. The 15,000-acre Salmon River fire was mostly contained on Aug. 22.

Fourteen of the 40 firefighters work for the DNR's Division of Forestry; the rest are professional firefighters from all over Ohio.

A separate forestry staff member was also working as a base camp manager at the American Fire in California's Tahoe National Forest.

All are specially trained in wildfire fighting. Many have made the trip West to fight fires in previous years.

Another 20-person Ohio crew returned from a fire in Oregon during the first week of August. None of the Ohioans currently on California fire lines are among those who battled the Oregon wildfire.

The 2013 Western fire season started early and appears more severe than usual. 

Evidence of this is the new group's California assignment. The state is home to the nation's largest contingent of wildland firefighters and rarely needs help from outside the state. This year is clearly different.

The work is physically taxing and sometimes dangerous. Nineteen members of an elite Arizona crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, died on June 30 fighting a forest fire north of Phoenix.

Experience gained by the Ohioans in northern California will prove valuable in attacking future forest fires at home.

Ohio records about 600 wildfires annually. Because of climate and topography, Ohio's wildfires are different in size and behavior from Western fires, according to the Ohio DNR.

Wildfire sources in the East are also different from those in the West. Human negligence and vehicle backfires start most fires in the Eastern United States. Lightning strikes account for most in the West.  

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