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Managing Lolo Creek Complex Fire generates massive organization

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Aug 23 2013 07:47:24 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 23 2013 09:16:50 PM MDT

Managing a fire that's rated the nation's highest priority requires myriad people and equipment.

LOLO, Mont. -

Managing a fire the size and status of  Lolo Creek Complex is a massive and expensive undertaking. In less than a week, costs have risen to $2.5 million.

Helicopters lift off from the temporary helibase, almost spitting distance from the fire. Air attacks play a crucial role in the rugged terrain. But it's expensive.

"The air tankers that drop retardant on the fire," said cost unit leader Kevin Sweeney. "The helicopters that support, that's roughly a million dollars through yesterday."

They are big ticket items. But everything has a price tag.

Feeding hundreds of hungry firefighters and personnel adds up. Sweeney said one day's price tag for breakfast, lunch and dinner was $35,000.

"We can feed up to 2,000 people, 350 an hour, and we provide everything from tents to the dining area," said mobile caterer Carolyn Stewart.

Stewart and her father Tom Stewart operate the business. They have traveled and fed people in many large scale emergencies and disasters. Everything has to be regulation perfect.

Keeping track of all that, and reams more stuff are workers that line the community events hall-turned operations center. There, you see scores of workers and their computers.

"We make sure all equipment is paid," said finance section chief Shirley Ehmann, "all personnel is paid. I work with the hosting agencies for their needs."

Here, they make maps and formulate game plans for managing the 9,500-acre fire that has taken Lolo by storm.