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Firefighters head south as Alaska season winds down

Posted: Friday, July 28, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With the wildfire season in Alaska damping down, firefighters in the state are being dispatched to help fight blazes in the Lower 48.

''Three hundred and fifty of our people have already gone down, and we haven't even started sending emergency firefighting crews down there,'' said Andy Williams, a spokesman for the Alaska Fire Service. ''We're expecting to send 20 of those teams down there soon.'' That means an additional 320 firefighters will head south in the near future.

The Alaska Fire Service has also shipped five aircraft, including a pair of retardant-dropping tankers, to the Lower 48.

The exodus is not unusual.

''It happens every year,'' Williams said. ''About the time the fire season winds down here, it picks up down there.

''Part of the normal fire season is working Outside,'' he said. ''The peak of the season doesn't usually come (in the Lower 48) until August.'' Williams himself was heading for Idaho Thursday to work as a fire information officer there.

Firefighting resources in the Lower 48 are so thin that federal officials have called on the military to help contain blazes that are charring tens of thousands of acres from Texas to Washington.

Last year, Williams said, some Alaska fire personnel were in the Lower 48 until December, fighting fires in California until just before Christmas.

There are still ample resources and equipment to fight fires in Alaska if the need arises, Williams said. But with a forecast calling for wet, soggy weather, the fire season is over in Alaska.

''We still have some people we can put against fires here, but we aren't going to get any,'' Williams said.



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