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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Press Conference From Fire Incident Manager

Aired June 21, 2003 - 13:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: On now to Tucson, Arizona for an update on the wildfire that have ravaged homes there mostly vacation homes. Let's listen in on a live press conference now.
LARRY HUMPHREY, FIRE INCIDENT MANAGER: We have roughly 700. That's a rough count right now. The fire is continuing to kind of do what it wants to do.

Starting over here on the west side of the fire, a car came up over Radio Ridge here. We know we have lost one tower. We may have lost more. We think they've sustained some pretty good damage. We don't know, because we can't really get in there right now. That's the ones way out on the point here off to the east.

The fire is trying to make a run back up to the other towers and the observatory today. We have sprinklers in there, we have a hose laying in there, we have done a lot of fuel removal in there, so we think that we have a chance of preventing some of this damage from happening on these towers.

Last night the fire made a push into the Lower Soldier Camp (ph) subdivision area, housing area. We think we lost roughly one-third of the homes there. We don't have a good count. We did a lot of triage in there and were able to save a lot of homes. We were able to save many, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) protection is right back in here, but they had to wait until the first run of the fire went through. They moved back in there immediately. We think we probably lost a third of those.

QUESTION: What subdivision is that?

HUMPHREY: Lower Soldier Camp (ph) area. We also got spots, that's back over here. We also got spots, embers across the road in a Soldier Camp (ph) area. The fire has not really hit that yet. We have crews working in there. The houses have sprinklers on them. We have got it triaged very well. In fact, we did some fuel removal on the Bullock (ph) fire, so some of that was already done. We think we will be pretty successful in protecting that. I'm not saying we are not going to lose any homes but damage should be fairly minimal.

We are still engaged in putting out hot spots in the Summerhaven area and Lomalinda (ph) area. And we are having quite a bit of success. We have saved a lot of homes in there. As you know, we have got a lot of loss in there also. But we are getting a lot done there.

We are looking at an area on the north end today to try to find a place to pinch this fire off. We are also looking at areas on the west, and it looks like possibly Semenego (ph) ridge may be a good place to pinch it off on the west. But we are still looking at that. We are continuing the line down the south here and we are burning this line out as we go to protect the fire from bumping and coming on toward the Palasades (ph) area, so we have got a lot of crews out there today, a lot of work going on. We will have a night shift composed to some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) crews and some engines that will be protecting the homes in that area all night tonight.

So we are extremely busy, trying to protect what we can, and at the same time we are also trying to make an assault on the perimeter of this fire. Previously to this, we have been working totally trying to protect homes and structures, and that sort of thing. So we are moving on.

The weather for today is not good, it's probably not quite as much wind as we had yesterday, but when you get over 20 miles per hour, it probably doesn't make a heck of a lot of a difference anyway. So we are trying our best. Keep moving on that. That's about it on the update.

QUESTION: Could you tell us how many homes, you said a third of the homes, but there was some question as to how many homes were in there. Can you give us an exact number? Are we talking about 10 homes or 12?

HUMPHREY: If I could give you an exact number, I wouldn't say a third. That's roughly a third. I can't give you an exact number.

QUESTION: Can you give us -- we don't know what the total number is? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HUMPHREY: I believe, but I don't know, there's probably somewhere between 30 or 50 homes in there, but I really don't know.

QUESTION: Are you using air tankers today?

HUMPHREY: We have no -- we are calling it still zero percent contained, and you are probably going to see that for a large number of days, yet.

QUESTION: Larry, are you using air tankers today?

HUMPHREY: Yes. We are using air tankers today. We used them yesterday, but our window was pretty small because of the high winds. We are also using the heavy type 1 helicopter. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, Ski Valley (ph), I saw that the fire went through the Ski Valley (ph) area. Was that because it had some clearing? Was that a hot burn through there or maybe more of a ground fire?

HUMPHREY: Part of the ski area itself right by the lodge, that fire came back up out of the bottom and moved back up. And it was a cool burn in there. We did lose some structures initially in that area, but I don't think we have lost any additional in there. So we're doing pretty... QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) water supply, I think that is -- feeds the main springs for Mount Lemmon.

HUMPHREY: I don't really know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Larry, how far are the flames from Oracle?

HUMPHREY: How far are the flames from Oracle? A long way.

QUESTION: It's not a concern today?

HUMPHREY: Not a concern today. It is several miles, and also they had the Oracle hill fire south of Oracle last year. That's a pretty good area to run the fire into, because it will protect Oracle.

QUESTION: Talk to us about the difficulty of fighting this fire. I know wind is a major problem, but talk to me about how tough it is to really put a ring around this fire.

HUMPHREY: Well, the trouble with the fire is it's on both sides of the Catalina Mountains, which are extremely high, rough, difficult terrain. So we are fighting fire on the north side and on the south side.

Extremely rough, difficult terrain. We have dehydration issues. It is really tough to keep hydrating, even though it's cooler up there. The crews are working extremely hard in that steep country. As you know, as you get higher you have a lot more trouble breathing, even when you are really well conditioned, so it's really draining for those crews.

And logistically, we have a real problem, because we have got fire on both sides, and as you all know, it's a long way around this thing to get back on the other side. So the logistical problems are simply going to increase. So it's going to become more and more difficult, as our numbers increase, like I said, we are over 700 people today. We are probably going to reach over 1,000 people as we have more room to put them in places where we can actually get to the fire. So...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It sounds like you are going to more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) offense if you will.

HUMPHREY: That is exactly right. We are typing to -- we have been defensive. We've been just trying to protect houses and structures in the past, although yesterday we started building this line off down to the southeast side. We are coming along on that. We are trying -- we are burning this line out on the southeast side as we go to keep the fire from hooking around us. So we are trying to get some line in, we are still in a defensive posture up here, we are looking at areas today on the ground and in the air to try to get out around this thing. The smoke column has been bent over so bad that we can't get a good look on it. But we are slowly moving to the offensive on this.

WHITFIELD: Officials out of Tuscan, Arizona saying they are being very defensive, trying to protect as many homes as possible, mostly vacation homes on the north and south side of the Catalina Mountains in Arizona, where the fires are raging there. They are trying to strategize as best they can and they say they are going to try and block off this fire move in from the perimeter from the west side, to try and save as many homes as possible. Already a third of the homes have been lost, that official says, but he wouldn't say just in numbers exactly what that means.

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