AGNESS, Ore. — The eight-week-old Silver Fire has cooled down and officials said Saturday that hundreds of firefighters are being sent home, but dry forest conditions continued to present a threat to millions of acres of timber in Oregon and Washington.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jerry Mason said the blaze near Grants Pass was 82% contained. About 120 acres of new burn were recorded overnight, the smallest increase in a month.
The fire, ignited by lightning on Aug. 20, has charred 96,057 acres in the Siskiyou National Forest, including 5,157 acres in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
Mason said 176 people were released from the fire lines Friday, and 200 were expected to be sent home this weekend.
"Continued high humidity and light winds are favorable factors in achieving containment soon," he said Saturday.
Fire Danger Continues
Because of continued drought and fire danger, however, authorities closed almost 19 million acres of state and private land in Washington and Oregon, which they said would affect both logging and the harvesting of Christmas trees.
"We have some real problems," Duane Kaiser, legislative commissioner for the Washington state Christmas Tree Growers, said Friday. "If these guys can't get out in the woods, this will be a real catastrophe."
Washington state officials said the dry forests will stay closed until significant rainfall arrives. About 7,000 people--mainly loggers and other timber industry employees--are out of work until then.
Kaiser believes Christmas tree growers will suffer even more.
Will Hurt Loggers
"This is going to hurt the loggers too, but they can work year-round. There's nothing more useless than a cut Christmas tree on the 26th of December," Kaiser said.
Pacific Northwest growers ship Christmas trees throughout the United States and to other countries, including Mexico, China and Canada, Kaiser said.
Officials at the National Christmas Tree Assn. said Oregon was the second-leading Christmas tree producer in 1986, shipping 4.6 million of the nation's 32.7 million Christmas trees. Washington state was fifth, with 2.2 million.
"Without trees' being harvested in Oregon and Washington, a lot of people could be in trouble," said Dave Bowman, an association spokesman. An abbreviated Christmas tree harvest in the Northwest also could result in higher tree prices around the country, he said.