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Firefighters Battle Several Lightning Blazes

July 5, 1989

Undated (AP) _ A wind-whipped forest fire sent smoke billowing 10,000 feet over the Utah-Colorado border and forced officials to restrict air travel Wednesday. Hundreds of firefighters battled lightning fires in two other states.

In Southern California, residents of an affluent neighborhood devastated by a wildfire returned to their homes to survey the damage and guard against looters. The fire destroyed 13 homes, causing at least $4.3 million in damage.

″We were going to have a barbecue,″ said Tammy Wigington, who lost a redwood deck and hot tub in the fire, though her home was spared. ″But I guess we already had one.″

The 1,500-acre fire in Hacienda Heights, a canyon about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, was surrounded Tuesday and firefighters said the cause remained under investigation. ″I can probably tell you it was man-made,″ Inspector John Lenihan said. ″The last time we had spontaneous combustion on brush was in the Old Testament.″

Lightning was blamed for fires in Utah, Colorado and in the Okefenokee Swamp along the Georgia-Florida border.

A 7,000-acre blaze roared past fire lines in the Flume Canyon Wilderness Study Area in eastern Utah and belched so much smoke that the Federal Aviation Administration closed an airway in the area about 80 miles west of Grand Junction, Colo.

The fire burned less than one mile from two natural gas lines, forcing Northwest Pipeline Co. to close the lines, said Mary Plumb of the Bureau of Land Management’s Moab District.

The fire did not threaten structures, but it burned a $5,000 Bureau of Land Management radio repeater being used to fight the blaze, Plumb said. It burned through sagebrush and old Douglas fir.

″We aren’t sure of the damage because we haven’t been able to get to the scene yet,″ she said. ″It’s in extremely rough country with extreme fire danger. There’s a drought out there, so it’s just a tinderbox.″

More than 300 firefighters were called in to fight the blaze, which authorities hope to contain by Monday.

In Georgia, more than 100 firefighters from state and federal agencies fought a 750-acre blaze in the Okefenokee Swamp with the help of helicopters that dumped water on hot spots. The 425,000-acre swamp has been left dry by below-normal rainfall and water levels.

The fire burned in the southwestern part of Billy’s Island, about 16 miles northeast of Fargo. Firefighters hoped to stop it from spreading to other parts of the island, said John Oberheu, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta.

Swamp officials say fire sometimes benefits the swamp, especially if it burns off dried peat that, if allowed to continue building up, could turn parts of the Okefenokee into dry land.

Firefighters had nearly contained a blaze that burned 1,800 acres in northwest Colorado’s steep, rocky terrain about 10 miles southeast of the Dinosaur National Monument. The fire was sparked June 29 by lightning.

In Wyoming Bridger-Teton National Forest, authorities believe fireworks may have caused a 1,300-acre blaze that ate through heavy lodgepole pine, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Fred Kingwill said.

″We have fireworks fires most every year,″ he said.

More than 100 firefighters were assisted by 12 smoke jumpers, firefighters who parchuted into the fire area. Eight Forest Service trucks with water pumps fought the fire from roadways, but Kingwill said most of the firefighting was being done by hand.

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