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RISING FROM THE ASHES IS NEW LIFE FOR TIMBER MILLS

The fire that scorched 64,000 acres of Northern California forest has given new life to three mills and their more than 500 workers, trade industry officials said Thursday.

Last month's fire in Shasta County, some 220 miles north of San Francisco left $85 million worth of burned timber, which loggers and mill-workers are now trying to salvage before the wood rots.When charred branches are stripped away, the trees are still good for timber.

"It's offered a reprieve to local communities and to those whose jobs would have been lost," said Don Zea of the California Forestry Association, an industry trade group.

Zea said three mills, two owned by Roseburg Forest Products and one owned by PNM Cedar Products, would have been closed by the end of this month.

Now the three mills and the more than 500 workers they employ are expected to operate for another year.

The mostly young trees on land owned by the Roseburg mill were not supposed to be logged and milled for several more years, and public land has been tied up in fights over environmental concerns.

Now, those workers are rushing to log and mill trees on the 26,000 acres of fire-swept land.

"Our only chance now is to hurry as fast as we can and try to take those trees off before they begin to deteriorate," Jerry Duffy, a resource specialist for Roseburg, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"In a year we need to have that wood off the ground," Duffy said. "Once a tree is dead, it's like your Christmas tree. It will last for a while, then pretty soon the wood begins to crack, insects take up a home in it, and ruin your lumber."