Local Forestry Service Ready to Help in California - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/28/03

Local Forestry Service Ready to Help in California

Wildfires are raging across southern California, burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land and hundreds of homes. The blazes are taking a deadly toll, having killed fourteen people so far. Flames are licking 100 feet in the air, and columns of smoke you can see from space are turning thick forests into a scorched wasteland and neighborhoods into moonscapes of devastation.

They've charred 400,000 acres from north of Los Angeles to south of San Diego. They've destroyed more than 1,100 and evacuated thousands more. But help is on the way. They're getting close to 100 fire engines from neighboring states, and manpower from all over the Southwest. If they do ask for volunteers from elsewhere, people in the forestry service in the Low Country say they're ready to help.

With wind whipping up the flames almost unchecked a lot of people are trying to handle the fire themselves, but government officials have been telling these vigilante firefighters to stay back and let the professionals deal with it. Low Country firefighters who've seen enormous blazes like this agree.

"If they tell you get out, then definitely you should get out," said Russell Mixson of the South Carolina Forestry Commission. "Once the fire situation happens, no rescue personnel can go in there so you're by yourself."

If there's still entire neighborhoods going up in flames by next week, Mixson says he's sure California will ask for help from all over the country, and the Low Country will likely send volunteers. But the style of firefighting is a little different in San Diego. "In the Southeast, we use a lot of bulldozers, and with the hilly conditions it's not feasible out there," he said.

Mixson says from what he's seen, there's no way firefighters can really attack these three blazes, at least not until the wind dies down a little. They have to take a more defensive stand, trying to protect things well ahead of the fires.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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