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CREWS EXPECT TO CONTAIN 450-ACRE FIRE SOON

Firefighters planned to contain by Tuesday a 450-acre wildfire that has burned among some of the nation's oldest trees since Aug. 24.

The Deep Creek Mountains fire, burning along the Utah-Nevada border, is being battled by nine 25-member ground crews and three helicopters. Rugged terrain has made firefighting difficult, but rain, snow in higher elevations and cool temperatures over the past several days have helped the ground crews, said Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Sharon Knowlton.The fire is burning in a Bureau of Land Management wilderness study area in bristlecone pine trees, some of which are 3,500 years old. The trees may be the oldest in any area controlled by the BLM, Knowlton said. The trees "are the thing we were trying to protect."

Knowlton said fire crews have been "very light on the land and have been leaving little or no scarring." Rocky outcrop areas are being used as natural fire breaks and chain saw use in fighting the fire has been minimal, she said.

The old trees are not an endangered species but are unique, said Bob Mitchell, fire management officer for the BLM's Salt Lake District Office. "It was a tough call, wrestling with whether to go into the wilderness study area, but we decided we didn't want the fire to take away from that uniqueness."

Williams said some of the old trees had been burned, but he did not know how many.

The effort is misplaced, said Gary MacFarlane, Utah Wilderness Association conservation director.

"Those bristlecones evolved with a natural-fire regime. They didn't get to be 4,000 years old with the presence of lightning and Great Basin Indians who routinely set fires without being tolerant of periodic natural fires.

"While I can understand the BLM's concern toward the bristlecone pines and I commend them for their sensitivity in fighting this fire, I'm not sure what they're doing is really necessary," he said. "It's going to cost a lot of money."

"We did spend some bucks to go into that area," Mitchell said. How much "won't be known until we close up shop and finish the paperwork, probably a couple of months down the road."

The fire remained small until "it blew up and made a run on us Friday," Mitchell said.

Firefighters used less aggressive tactics than usual because of the sensitive environment, Mitchell said.

"They're not ripping and digging and sawing like they usually do," he said. "Normally a fire crew really goes to town. To have firefighters not do that is damned hard. Hopefully, this soft approach will leave minimal scars."

Mitchell was "amazed we burned 450 acres. There's just no ground fuel, just pines, rocks and ledges." Firefighters were concerned the fire could triple in size if it spread to Hardscrabble Canyon.