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Wildfires Scorch 110,000 Acres in Northwest

September 2, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Overwhelmed firefighters let smaller hotspots burn and awaited reinforcements from as far as the Northeast today as they battled hundreds of fires that had blackened more than 130,000 acres in the West.

More than 300 California National Guardsmen were called out today to help in hard-hit Tuolumne County, along with aircraft and 90 trucks, said Guard spokeswoman Sgt. Carolyn Hamilton.

The fires in tinder-dry Oregon, California and Idaho forced scattered evacuations, destroyed or damaged dozens of homes and threatened rural communities. One fire in Washington forced evacuation of a state park.

Lightning-spawned fires had charred 89,115 acres of brush and timber by today in northern California, swelling by 20,000 acres in less than 24 hours.

″There are now 910 fires going,″ said John Carter at the joint state- federal fire information center in Sacramento, Calif. ″We have 11,000 people fighting the fires.″

The biggest single fire, in the central Idaho mountains, was a blaze that flared up and doubled in size in one day to 15,000 acres after being left to burn itself out. Arson was believed to be the cause of at least three of the more than 30 fires in Southern California.

Federal and state firefighters used at least 48 air tankers, 296 fire engines, 31 helicopters, and scores of bulldozers.

Scores of residents were evacuated in Tuolumne City, Harding Flats and Smith Station.

A Forest Service firefighter was killed Tuesday when he was hit by a motorcycle, said Harley Greiman, a forest service spokesman.

Mike Milosch of the U.S. Forest Service said the hottest spot in California was in the southern Stanislaus National Forest, with three uncontrolled fires of 3,000 to 4,000 acres each that burned a house, a mobile home and two lookout stations.

In Southern California’s San Bernardino County, where temperatures hit 107 Tuesday, homes in the Oak Hills area near Cajon Pass were briefly threatened by a 65-acre blaze. ″The fire ran in and around all the homes there, but none of the homes was damaged. We emptied a bunch of fire engines,″ said forestry department Capt. Tom Andreas.

Fire information officer John Silvius said 168 fires, some having joined each other, blackened 14,000 acres of brush and valuable timber in Klamath National Forest, California’s northernmost national park.

He said the battle there could take ″a very, very long time - minimum a week.″

″We are extraordinarily short of people,″ Silvius said. He said some fires had as few as 15 firefighters on them.

In addition, a weather inversion held smoke near the ground, reducing visibility and hampering air tankers and helicopter spotters, he said.

In Idaho, a 32-day-old fire that flared up to cover 15,000 acres threatened a lookout and other buildings in the Elk Creek area.

A range fire southwest of Pocatello blackened 2,600 acres but was burning away from an affluent subdivision where a $200,000 home was destroyed Sunday and an estimated 1,000 residents were forced to evacuate for a day.

In Oregon, at least 26,000 acres of forest were blackened in seven major fires and 600 smaller ones.

More than 3,000 firefighters were on the job with more on the way, said Ray Naddy of the Oregon Unified Coordination Group, which coordinates firefighting among state and federal agencies.

Crews were short-handed because larger fires in California were given priority, he said.

Foresters from several states were on their way to join the battle against the Oregon fires, including crews from Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and the Northeast.

″There’s really a shortage of people and air support, especially tankers and helicopters,″ said Gary Lettman, of the federal-state coordination group.

The situation was so extreme that no firefighters were assigned to a fire covering 2,200 acres of steep terrain 25 miles west of Grants Pass. ″Remarkably, nobody is on it yet,″ Naddy said. ″It’s very dangerous.″

A 4,000-acre blaze fire in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest destroyed at least one home and others were damaged, Naddy said. Naddy said 25 homes were evacuated.

Firefighters tried to rein in a 4,000-acre blaze burning grass and sagebrush in remote Lake County, said Bill Keil, a federal Bureau of Land Management spokesman.

About 11 miles southeast of Grants Pass, flames blackened 2,250 acres at Sykes Creek and destroyed a counseling center near Wimer, state officials said.

Residents in the Sykes Creek and Savage Creek areas were evacuated, said Kurt Austermann of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

″I lost 40 acres of timber,″ said Willard Herzberg, taking a rest from digging fire lines and spraying water on his house. ″It took me six years to clean it out and here the fire did it in six minutes.″