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Firefighters Gain Upper Hand In Fires; Strong Winds Prompt Caution

September 15, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Winds blowing hard enough to clear smoke but not enough to push flames over fire lines aided firefighters battling blazes Tuesday over 600,000 acres of California forest, while light showers helped contain fires in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains.

Firefighters gained the upper hand over the fires that have charred 554,000 acres of Northern California forestland since late August, but fire officials expressed caution because of the winds.

Dave Sandoval, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said the cold front moving into the fire area about midday Tuesday would likely bring winds up to 35 mph and last through Wednesday.

The weather improved conditions at the worst of the Northern California blazes, in the Klamath National Forest.

″Visibility has improved and the winds are aiding breathing by clearing away smoke,″ said Jon Silvius of the Forest Service. ″The winds also make the fire more active, but it mostly is just challenging fire lines. There have been no significant jumps.″

The fires have burned more than 1,100 square miles in eight Western states since the spate began late last month. Most of the fires were set off by lightning during hot, dry weather.

The California blazes were the most destructive in the state’s history, and were battled at their peak by 14,000 firefighters, but authorities have begun sending 10,000 firefighters home.

Stephanie Gibert, spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said that 554,000 acres have been blackened in Northern California since Aug. 28. Fires have destroyed about 60,000 acres in Southern California, and the blazes there have all been declared fully contained, fire officials said.

The bulk of the remaining fires were raging in the Klamath National Forest and parts of the Shasta-Trinity national forests, but progress was reported by fire officials.

Nearly 154,000 acres in the Klamath have been charred by dozens of fires. The only fully contained fire in the forest was the 2,400-acre Bear Cat area blaze, said Gibert.

In the Shasta-Trinity national forests, 79,000 acres have burned. The largest blaze in that area, the Limedyke complex covering 22,000 acres, was 85 percent contained Monday. An 18,000-acre fire, called the Gulch complex, was reported fully contained on Tuesday, said Gibert.

In Oregon, drizzle helped firefighters contained more than half of Oregon’s last big forest fire, the 30,600-acre Silver Complex fires located 25 miles west of Grants Pass in the Siskiyou National Forest, said fire spokeswoman Doris Tai.

Just one-twentieth of an inch fell, ″but it was enough to help,″ Ms. Tai said Tuesday. ″It put out some of the spot fires. Really, all that is left to be done that this team can do is build complete fire lines and reinforce some of the lines they have built.

″The forecast is for more of this drizzle and humidity, so it’s bring smiles to people’s faces,″ she added.

Fire bosses are still unable to predict when they might get the fire fully contained, but they are starting to release some of the firefighters, she said.

In Idaho, fire bosses regrouped Tuesday in the Nezperce National Forest, banking on cooler weather and increased manpower to rein in a forest fire north of the Salmon River that grew from 350 acres to more than 2,500 acres in less than 24 hours.

The flames leaped natural and manmade barriers, leaving about firefighters struggling to re-establish fire lines.

The blaze was sparked last weekend when the 3,400-acre Mann Creek Fire in the Payette National Forest south of the Salmon jumped the river.

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