Fire containment now Thursday

Fire containment now Thursday

6 November 2007

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California, USA — Full containment of the Santiago Firewas pushed back again by two days although the fire appears to have lost itsstrength several days ago and fire officials have reduced the number offirefighters by nearly half.

Smoke was spotted overnight as a small flare-up made a run and burned somebrush within the east portion of the fire’s perimeter. Unburned brush in a300-acre island near containment lines also has a few remaining hot spots whichcould threaten containment, said Shane Cunningham, public information officerfor the unified command team.

Containment crept up to 94 percent Monday evening after it had remained at 90percent for several days. Full containment is now expected to be reachedThursday, said Tom Berglund, public information officer.

Officials once more pushed back their expected date for full containmentbecause of that 300-acre patch of land, where firefighters lighted backfiresseveral days ago to consume the unburned vegetation. They had hoped to deprivethe fire of fuel that could renew its strength.

Most of the south-facing slopes in the 300-acre island have been consumed byflames, but the north-facing slopes still have unburned vegetation, and hotspots keep firefighters cautious, Cunningham said.

The area includes brush that is 10 to 20 feet high, he said, making itdangerous for firefighters to access the area because they are surroundingthemselves with fuel for the fire, and a quick run by the fire could put them injeopardy and without a quick escape route.

As the blaze continues to lose strength, the fire fighting force has beenreduced to about half of Monday’s number. Today, 652 firefighters continue tofight the remnants of the blaze that consumed 28,400 acres in the last 17 days.That force was reduced from 1,199 firefighters who were on scene Monday.

Equipment still being used includes 10 bulldozers, 42 engines, fourhelicopters and six water tenders. The cost of fighting the fire has climbed to$19.7 million.

But while some firefighters continue to be released, state and federalofficials also begin to assess the damage caused by the flames and decide whatcan be done to correct the situation.

State and federal officials of Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teamshave already begun to assess the damage caused by the fire.

The federal team will mainly focus on the Cleveland National Forest, whilethe state team will look at the effects of the remainder of the fire-ravagedland, said Bud Ivey, spokesman for the federal BAER team.

The steep slopes and sandy terrain of the 28,400 acres of land consumed bythe flames has placed the Santiago fire as the highest priority in all of therecent California fires, Cunningham said.

Some of the immediate concerns that have been spotted since the first membersof the BAER team arrived include possible flooding and debris falling fromnearby slopes in Modjeska, Williams and Silverado Canyons, Ivey said.

Officials also are concerned with the water quality of Lake Irvine, as wellas the road damage to the area.

With the clearing of large swaths of land by the fire, the possibility ofillegal use of off-road vehicles, motor bikes and ATVs also is a concern, hesaid, as well as the possible introduction of foreign plants that could disruptthe local ecosystem.

A full report with recommendations is expected to be completed by Nov. 10. Itwill include information from experts in water flow, soil, geology, botany,engineering, archeology and computer mapping.

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