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TOOELE HIGH DOUBLING AS CAMP

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The band room is now an operations center and the practice field a tent city since Tooele High School became the base camp for about 300 fire-fighters Friday.

Firefighters have been working the East Harker, Erickson Knoll and Rilley fires, known as the East Harker Complex, south and southwest of Tooele. They tried unsuccessfully to find a home closer to the fires before landing at the high school.The town of Vernon, closer to two of the three fires, offered its grade school as a fire camp, but there were too many firefighters to fit, said E. Butch Hayes, logistics coordinator for the interagency firefighting team.

Fire bosses tried to establish a remote "strike camp" close to lines on the Erickson Knoll fire Monday night, but overnight rains made the terrain so hostile that work-weary firefighters arrived at the location only to find conditions too muddy to pitch their tents, said fire information officer Pat Irwin.

Muddy, slick terrain persuaded fire bosses to keep all of the firefighters off the lines Tuesday, giving them their first break in 11 days.

So firefighters spent the day either at the high school or milling around Tooele. A sign on the school's gymnasium door said "no black-soled boots" and there was no hot water in the showers, but the gym is open for basketball, the cafeteria is serving breakfast and dinner, and there was plenty of room on the grounds for the firefighters to rest or play games.

"After the hot days, a cold shower feels pretty good," said Cathy Henson, a Job Corps squad boss from North Carolina. "I know a lot of guys on the crew wanted to go to McDonald's."

Crews were back on the lines Wednesday and expected to have at least the two eastern fires in the complex contained Wednesday evening.

Hayes said the fire team would start folding its tents by the end of the week, if the containment holds.

"There's still quite a bit of work out on the line. Some of the folks are doing mop up," said fire information officer Erin O'Connor.