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4th Firefighter Dies; Blazes Nearer Containment

September 13, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM and BOB BAKER | Times Staff Writers

Firefighters throughout the state continued Saturday to gain ground on scores of large forest fires. However, their success was marred by the death of a firefighter who was killed by a falling tree in the Stanislaus National Forest, the fourth fatality since a wave of lightning-caused brush fires began to plague California two weeks ago.

David Ross Erickson, a 34-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter from Etna, Calif., was cutting a tree that fell and struck a second tree, which in turn fell on him, killing him instantly, an agency spokesman said Saturday. The incident occurred Friday evening.

More than 100 firefighters working on the state's wildfires have been treated for injuries, many of them for smoke inhalation.

3 Die in Vehicle Accidents

The three previous deaths were caused by vehicle accidents. Two of them, both linked to smoke-limited visibility, occurred in the Klamath National Forest, parts of which have worse smoke pollution than Los Angeles during heavy smog, a state medical officer said.

Most of the major fires that have charred 750,000 acres in California and Oregon were reported increasingly nearer to containment Saturday. But the Klamath forest remained the biggest headache for firefighters in California. About 47 fires, most of them yet to be contained, had destroyed 143,600 acres.

Statewide, 160 of the 1,247 fires that have broken out in the last two weeks were still not contained Saturday. They have destroyed 553,000 acres.

The blaze closest to Los Angeles, the stubborn Silverado fire, had consumed nearly 5,000 acres and was 60% contained in the rugged high country along the Orange-Riverside county line, authorities said Saturday.

The blaze, which was deliberately set Wednesday, is expected to be fully contained by tonight, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tom Horner said.

More than 1,200 firefighters struggled Saturday to complete the 14-mile containment ring around the fire, which briefly threatened homes in several of the steep, sparsely populated canyons in the area.

While stronger winds caused the fire to flare for a time, they also aided efforts to set backfires between the main blaze and the containment lines, Horner said.

Air Tankers Used

The thrust of the fire fight Saturday was north of Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest, where hand crews slowly picked their way along ridges and rocky slopes, clearing brush and using flares to set backfires. Five air tankers and four helicopters dumping fire-retardant chemicals and water were also employed Saturday.

Eight firefighters have been hurt during the five-day battle, the most serious a Los Angeles County firefighter who fractured an ankle when he slipped on a rock, Horner said.

Even as fires continued burning Saturday, a Forest Service team of experts began examining the charred slopes to prepare a reseeding plan.

In Northern California, officials said the 136,600-acre Stanislaus National Forest blaze was 90% contained Saturday.

"We've got cooler temperatures, and that's helping some. But we're still asking that people be careful. We're all worn out," a state Department of Forestry spokesman said.

State fire officials said they are routing firefighters and equipment from the Stanislaus blaze to the Klamath Forest and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

A 400-acre brush and timber fire west of Yosemite National Park was brought under full control, and many of the 600 firefighters there were sent to other areas. That blaze was thought to have been deliberately set last Wednesday.

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