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Crews Work to Consolidate Gains Against Wildfires

August 4, 1989

Undated (AP) _ A fire in California’s Cleveland National Forest has closed an observatory housing the nation’s largest optical telescope until further notice, although the blaze has shifted away from the historic facility, officials said today.

Major fires also burned in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon. The western blazes have blackened nearly 225,000 acres, the federal Boise Interagency Fire Center reported today. It said more than 21,000 people were fighting the fires.

About 500 firefighters were brought in to protect equipment and structures after the 10,780-acre wildfire came within three miles of the Mount Palomar Observatory, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Audrey Hagen.

But she said winds shifted early this morning, pushing the walls of flame westward, away from the hilltop facility, which also has a museum and gallery.

Scientists were forced to cease their work and close the telescope Thursday to prevent ash from damaging the telescope’s $20 million mirror. Observatory officials said today the grounds were closed to visitors until further notice as a precautionary measure.

″We have a lot of unhappy astronomers around here,″ said Bob Thickston, superintendant of the observatory, owned by the California Institute of Technology.

The week-old blaze, in forest that straddles Riverside and San Diego counties 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was less than 60 percent contained, said Forest Service spokeswoman Rosalinda Ewen.

Elsewhere in the state, a three-day old fire that has burned 600 acres in the Mendocino National Forest was declared 75 percent contained. The blaze, in steep, remote terrain, was apparently started by two lost men seeking rescue, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman LaVon Perez.

In Idaho, cooler weather allowed more than 9,000 firefighters to get the upper hand on a few of the 38 major fires eating up state forests today, but fire bosses braced for predicted higher weekend temperatures.

″We’re in an increasing warming and drying trend,″ said Payette National Forest spokesman Vance Persing. ″If we reach the weather we had several days ago, things could really start popping.″

Still, headway was made on one of the most critical fires, the 6,200-acre Fleming Creek blaze near Banks in west-central Idaho. It was contained late Thursday and could be controlled this weekend.

The cooler temperatures and higher humidity also allowed final control on the 4,800-acre King Gulch Fire in the Boise National Forest, which at one time threatened Idaho City, about 25 miles northeast of Boise.

In Oregon, a major fire was contained and crews welcomed Army assistance in digging trails around smaller blazes that have burned 93,500 acres in the eastern part of the state.

The Dooley Mountain fire burned across nearly 20,000 acres of timber and grazing land, killing 26 cattle and forcing the evacuation of homes and ranches before it was contained Thursday, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Gail Aschenbrenner.

Elsewhere, about 650 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., set up camp Thursday outside Unity, about 70 miles southwest of Baker and three miles from a 13,300-acre fire in the Monument Rock Wilderness.

A 23,300-acre fire on the boundary of the Eagle Cap Wildneress area northeast of Baker destroyed a small snowmobile hut, but spared the Lick Creek Guard Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, said Bruce McMillan, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest spokesman.

In Montana, fire engines stood by to protect two mountain cabins as a lightning-sparked fire in dead timber grew quickly to 600 acres on the Crow Indian Reservation southeast of Billings. An 800-acre grass and timber fire in the Custer National Forest in the state’s southeastern corner was contained.

In Nebraska’s northwest corner, a timber fire swept through canyon country 12 miles southeast of Fort Robinson State Park this morning, burning at least 3,000 acres. Authorities said the fire, which broke out Thursday, could be contained later today, but said winds forecast at 10 to 20 mph could hamper efforts.

Washington’s firefighters were sent to other states after its fires were declared out.

Allan West, a Forest Service deputy chief, said at a Washington, D.C., news conference that fire conditions are extreme to severe in 14 states.

″Long-range weather forecasts indicate continuing severe fire conditions, leaving this fire season with the potential to be as severe as last year’s,″ he said. ″We see no relief through the month of October in precipitation and temperature.″

So far this year, more than 39,400 fires have been reported burning 1.38 million acres. That compares with almost 61,200 fires covering 2.37 million acres through the same time period last year.

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