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Archive for Friday, July 26, 2002

Fire grows; ancient trees saved

Suspect still in custody, cooperating with investigators

July 26, 2002

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— The wildfire raging near some of the nation's ancient sequoias grew to 57,000 acres Thursday as fire crews said they had been able to save several groves of the majestic trees.

"This is good day for firefighters," said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the fire management team.

Fire came within two miles of the giant sequoias in the Trail of
100 Giants near Johnsondale, Calif. The trail is home to many of
the planet's oldest and largest trees. A California woman is being
held on suspicion of starting a 57,000-acre fire that has gobbled
swaths of Sequoia National Forest.

Fire came within two miles of the giant sequoias in the Trail of 100 Giants near Johnsondale, Calif. The trail is home to many of the planet's oldest and largest trees. A California woman is being held on suspicion of starting a 57,000-acre fire that has gobbled swaths of Sequoia National Forest.

However, the fire was just 5 percent contained and blustery, hot weather was forecast again in the parched region. Another 500 firefighters were deployed alongside 1,000 already battling flames in and near the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

So far, none of the area's sequoia stands have burned. Flames have come within a mile of the Packsaddle Grove and within two miles of the Trail of 100 Giants, a grove that includes some of the Earth's largest and oldest trees.

Individual sequoias can live more than 3,000 years and their thick trunks are resistant to fire. But the towering trees are vulnerable when flames reach the crowns of smaller trees and leap from there into the limbs of the sequoias, high above the ground.

Peri Van Brunt, 45, remained in custody Thursday on suspicion of starting the fire and her arraignment wasn't expected until today. Paxon said Van Brunt was cooperating with authorities.

"They are looking at the case being accidental rather than arson," he said.

Van Brunt, from nearby Bakersfield, went into the Roads End Lodge Sunday in Johnsondale saying she had been cooking hot dogs when she lost control over her campfire, Forest Service officer Brian Adams said.

Van Brunt asked for help, then fled with her dog as 30-mph winds fanned the fire out of control, witnesses said. Minutes later, everyone at the lodge also fled, and the entire place burned down, leaving only the chimney.

Campfires weren't banned in the area but the fire danger has been considered extreme lately and permits were required. Rangers said Van Brunt had not obtained such a permit.

"I hope she is the right woman," said lodge owner Marcia Burford, 40, who had time to snatch only a laptop computer, her son's guitar, money from the safe and a checkbook. "I feel sorry for her because I don't think she realized what she did."

Still, some campers said Van Brunt should be punished if she's found guilty.

"Considering the dry season we're having and all the fires we've had in the West, she should have known better," said Nancy Cheeseman, 49.

Elsewhere in the West:

A special investigation team went to Oregon's biggest wildfire to find out why 20 firefighters had to climb into their emergency shelters to escape being overrun by flames Wednesday. Eleven were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Elsewhere, a 1,600-acre fire near Chiloquin threatened homes and prompted voluntary evacuations.

In Washington, a 28,500-acre fire on the north shore of Lake Chelan was 35 percent contained, but hot, dry weather was forecast and evacuation notices remained in effect.

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