Western wildfires: Growing flames charge across dry states
The Associated Press
Aug. 23, 2015
Wildfires continued across the drought-plagued West on Saturday, leading residents to flee their homes and authorities to scramble for resources to beat back the flames.
Blazes in Washington state that killed three firefighters and injured four others continued to explode in size, while other fires charged toward populated areas in several states.
A look at large Western wildfires:
Massive wildfires expanding across north-central Washington continued to grow on Friday. The Okanogan Complex of wildfires, where three firefighters died on Wednesday, grew by more than 100 square miles and stood at 355 square miles on Saturday morning.
The federal government has declared an emergency, and state officials took the unprecedented step of seeking volunteers to help fight the flames. Volunteers were to begin training Saturday.
The Okanogan Complex has burned numerous structures, but the situation is so chaotic in the huge county that officials have no estimate on how many have burned. Winds were expected to slow on Saturday.
A second of four firefighters injured in a wildfire on Wednesday has been transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, the Northwest's major burn center. Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Saturday that the firefighter is listed in satisfactory condition.
The man is an employee of the state Department of Natural Resources, agency spokesman Bob Redling said. He was initially treated and released from a hospital in Okanogan, and then asked to go to Harborview, Redling said.
Evacuations have been ordered in northern Idaho as a group of wildfires that has already destroyed 42 homes threatened more residences Friday. Nearly 800 firefighters were trying to beat back the flames.
Idaho had 17 large fires — the most in the nation.
Fire managers told residents near the town of Weippe to flee the fires that have scorched 63 square miles of mostly timber.
Gov. Kate Brown is activating an additional 250 Oregon National Guard members to help fight destructive wildfires raging across the state.
Brown's decision on Saturday comes days after she activated an initial 125 guard members, who began training in Salem on Saturday and were scheduled to be dispatched on Wednesday to the front lines.
The governor's office says the next group will begin training next week.
Strong winds carried smoke from the blazes in eastern Oregon and Washington across the Cascade mountain range Saturday, prompting air-quality alerts and an influx of 911 calls across the Willamette Valley.
With the smoke now affecting the most populated areas of the state, health officials are warning people to be take precautions. They recommend limiting time outdoors and avoiding strenuous activity.
More than 12,000 firefighters are battling 17 wildfires across California.
A fire that has burned for nearly three weeks on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada grew to 73 ½ square miles near Kings Canyon National Park and was bearing down on popular Hume Lake. Firefighters focused on defending Hume Lake Christian Camps on Saturday.
The blaze on Friday burned down Kings Canyon lodge that had been evacuated earlier in the week, the first structure it had claimed since lightning sparked it on July 31. Pieces of foundation, charred metal pipes and a burned-out truck were all that remained. No injuries were reported.
More than 2,500 campers, hikers, employees and residents have been evacuated this week.
Residents and firefighters alike are welcoming much improved weather conditions that have calmed wildfires burning in western Montana.
However, firefighters cautioned that conditions were expected to become more favorable for active fire early in the coming week.
A fire burning on Glacier National Park's southern boundary near the town of Essex stayed relatively in check despite strong winds Friday.
The fire is located in the Great Bear Wilderness about 2 ½ miles south of Essex, where about 100 area residents have been told to be prepared to evacuate.
U.S. Highway 2 was reopened to traffic with pilot car escorts.
Forecasters say a grey haze from western wildfires is expected to continue over parts of Colorado this weekend.
The fire danger is high in the northern area of Colorado because of gusty winds, low humidity and dry vegetation.