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Firefighters Struggling Against Stubborn Blazes as Rainfall Never Shows

September 11, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Nearly 13,000 firefighters struggled against still-raging forest fires in northern California today, hampered by a smoky lid of hot air, while crews in Oregon assaulted their state’s biggest blaze.

Firefighters in parched California kept their eyes on the sky, hoping to win a one-in-five chance of rain.

″We really don’t put fires out, the weather puts them out,″ Ken Blonski, a fire coordinator said Thursday. ″We really are at the mercy of the natural elements, no matter what anyone tells you.″

More than 20,000 firefighters, soldiers and prison inmates are fighting major blazes in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Hawaii. Forest and brush fires have charred more than 1,100 square miles in the West.

So far, California firefighters have contained 203,350 acres since the lightning-started fires began Aug. 28, and 346,000 acres remain uncontained, said Jim Geiger of the U.S. Forest Service in Sacramento.

The state’s top worry were fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, where 69,560 acres had burned, and the Klamath National Forest, where 131,000 acres have been consumed.

The area had a 20 percent chance of showers by today and a 30 to 40 percent chance through the weekend, but a fast-moving fire that destroyed 2,500 acres in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest was the state’s No. 3 worry.

Firefighters worked through the night to clear vegetation in the fire’s path in an effort to stop it from spreading, Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Fountain said today. The fire was reported to be only about 15 percent contained.

The fire threatened some homes in the rural Santa Ana Mountains on Thursday, but that threat had lessened by early today, Ms. Fountain said.

″We hope to get things cleaned up in the northern half of the state before fires start breaking out in the south half,″ said Jerry Partain, director of the California Department of Foresty during a briefing in Sacramento.

The week-old thermal inversion that trapped smoke and carbon monoxide and blocked out the sun over northern California lifted briefly Thursday, allowing the town of Happy Camp to temporarily shut off its street lights for the first time in a week, said Doug Williams of the Forest Service in Yreka.

The temporary lift allowed aircraft to survey the Klamath fire and helicopters to drop retardant for the first time in 10 days, but the inversion is expected at morning and evening through the weekend, forecasters said.

There are 5,600 firefighters battling 72 fires in seven complexes in the Klamath forest, said Williams. So far, they have built 200 miles of firebreaks.

In Oregon, Army troops mopping up the 10,000-acre Longwood Complex fires outside Cave Junction were to join the fight against the uncontrolled 27,400- acre Silver Complex and 16,530-acre Galice Complex fires in the Siskiyou National Forest outside Grants Pass, officials said.

A total of 122,600 acres of timber has burned in Oregon since lightning storms ignited them Aug. 30, said spokesman Ray Naddy. Firefighters reported 67 percent of the fires contained or controlled.

Authorities estimate the total loss of timber and resources at more than $320 million, with state firefighting costs projected to reach $35 million by Sunday.

In California, nearly 550,000 acres had been destroyed statewide by Thursday, and all but 173 of the 1,247 fires started over the past 12 days have been contained, officials said.

The cost of the California firefighting has been estimated at $4 million a day for equipment and crews. Three firefighters have died on the job and fires have caused 99 injuries and destroyed 98 structures, including 39 homes.

Forest officials said at least 1.2 billion board-feet of lumber have been lost.

In Washington, more than 400 firefighters struggled to contain stubborn fires on nearly 300 acres of steep, rugged terrain in the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascade Mountain foothills. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

About 100 firefighters battled a blaze at Mount Si, a 4,190-foot peak about 30 miles southeast of Seattle. The road to the peak, popular with climbers, was closed to the public.

In Arizona, a blaze blackened about 2,100 acres of wilderness in the Coronado National Forest northeast of Tucson, officials said.

A forest fire burning near the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming crept up to 115 acres, park officials said Thursday. The park is allowing the fire to burn, although officials are watching it around the clock, park spokeswoman Anita Varley said.

In Hawaii, a fire that has burned 14,000 acres of grassland and forest in Volcanoes National Park was expected to be contained, a park spokesman said.

And in northern Utah, firefighters contained a stubborn, lightning-sparked fire that charred about 200 to 300 acres of sage and juniper in the hills east of Coalville.

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