Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Suppression efforts continue on Gap Fire


Territory scorched by the Gap Fire actually diminished on Wednesday to 9,400 acres, down from previous estimates of 9,710 acres, after infrared mapping flights revealed increasingly accurate data.
However, flames continued burning to the northwest and west as firefighters scrambled to tie in containment lines along those edges.

“That’s where the lion’s share of the work is going on,” fire spokesman John Ahlman said. “They really want to work that hard.”
Of considerable concern are a series of television and radio transmitters and towers at Santa Ynez Peak and Broadcast Peak, west of the active front of the blaze.
Ahlman said those areas typically have solid fire clearances, but crews may work to extend those safety areas just to be safe.
“You’ve gotta bet they’re going to look at those very closely,” he said.
Containment remained at 55 percent as suppression costs swelled to $14.2 million. Several hundred homes remain in danger, according to official figures, and a mandatory evacuation remains in effect along West Camino Cielo west of Windermere Ranch.
Heat also continues to be a concern for fire officials, although no personnel have experienced any serious heat-related injuries or illness.
“That’s something we always talk to folks about at briefings — staying hydrated,” Ahlman said.
Approximately 1,387 personnel remain on the scene, along with nine helicopters and 15 bulldozers.
In a sign that the fire’s impact on residents is lessening, the Red Cross lowered its emergency shelter at San Marcos High School to standby status. Officials said the shelter could be opened again in a matter of minutes and asked anyone in need of emergency housing due to the Gap Fire to call 687-1331.
As flames march away from populated areas, officials are performing initial assessments of damage. Agricultural deficits are expected to top $1 million with the loss of approximately 233 acres of avocado orchards, authorities said.
William D. Gillette, the county’s agricultural commissioner, said total losses — including replacement costs for crops and infrastructure, and money lost due to a lack of production — are estimated to reach $9.5 million during the next five to seven years.
His report to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services on Wednesday is a preliminary assessment and losses will be finalized once the Gap Fire is controlled. However, the report marks the first step in helping local farmers seek potential financial assistance.
Assemblymember Pedro Nava hailed financial relief from the federal government in a news release announcing that FEMA has granted Category B assistance to the state, providing federal funds to pay for 75 percent of the firefighting efforts.
“We are grateful that the federal government is coming through with vital resources to help us fight these devastating fires,” Assemblymember Nava said in the release. “Our public safety personnel are placing their lives on the line to protect all of us and it is imperative that we have the necessary resources to help in these efforts.”
Congresswoman Lois Capps also praised two bills related to wildfires burning throughout the state. One, known as the FLAME Act, or Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act, proposes creating a separate fund for catastrophic wildland fires.
Currently, the U.S. Forest Service is forced to drain funds from other programs, such as fire prevention efforts, campground maintenance and forest restoration, to pay for emergency fire suppression.
“For too long the high cost of fighting fires has relied on unpredictable emergency funding measures and put a squeeze on other critical Forest Service operations, including fire prevention and mitigation efforts,” she said in a prepared statement.
The congresswoman also spoke in strong support of a resolution she cosponsored that commends firefighters across the nation.
“As I speak here today, thousands of men and women are putting their lives on the line to protect our wildlands and private property,” Congresswoman Capps said. “…I know I speak for my friends and neighbors on the Central Coast and all Californians as we thank and honor these courageous individuals by supporting this resolution.”

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