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Weather Creates New Problems For Western Firefighters With AM-Fire Center, Bjt

August 5, 1989

Undated (AP) _ Army soldiers joined weary firefighters in hard-hit Idaho on Saturday, working to save summer homes and thousands of acres of timber as forest fires sprang to life again with the return of warm weather.

Weather also posed new worries in other parts of the West as two days of relatively cool conditions gave way to new forecasts for rising temperatures, low humidity and lightning storms.

″We are bracing for some storms that could come in on Sunday,″ said Debie Chivers, a spokeswoman for the Boise (Idaho) Interagency Fire Center, the national headquarters for fighting wildfires.

At midday Saturday, 220,000 acres were burning nationwide and 1.4 million acres had burned so far this season, according to the center. The number of people fighting the latest spate of blazes, which broke out 1 1/2 weeks ago when a rash of lightning storms raked the West, totaled 23,000.

Nearly half the area affected by active fires this weekend was in Idaho, where blazes mushroomed from about 90,000 acres Friday to 102,000 acres Saturday. Large fires also persisted in Oregon and California, and smaller range and timberland blazes were being fought or mopped up in Utah, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming.

In central Idaho, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army joined forces in a 1,200-acre ″burnout″ in Payette National Forest to save about 130 structures, including 70 summer cabins. Helicopters dropped flammable pellets to create a blackened buffer between a 21,800-acre complex of fires and the homes.

In the northern part of the forest, a 4,200-acre fire lunged against fire lines created to protect the historic mining town of Warren.

″We’ve had numerous spots jump over the line,″ Payette Forest spokeswoman Jeanne Felmy said. ″They work on the spots as they appear, hitting them from the air and the ground.″

About 500 soldiers from the 4th Infantry ″Iron Horse″ group from Colorado joined firefighting crews in Idaho as support, and an additional 700 from Fort Riley, Kan., were expected Monday.

The Boise center has managed so far to get people and supplies where they are needed most. ″But if we get another bust (of lightning-caused fires), things are going to be challenging,″ said another spokesman, Ken Showalter.

In eastern Oregon, firefighters expected to contain four large fires totaling 50,000 acres by the end of the weekend.

However, a 10,300-acre fire in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was not expected to be contained until Tuesday, said Wendy Evans, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

″We were able to get the upper hand,″ Evans said. ″Now, the weather’s getting warmer and dryer, and we can expect activity in these fires.″

More than 9,000 firefighters, including 1,300 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., were on fire lines in Oregon, she said.

In Southern California, a 14,000-acre wildfire felled century-old timber and charred vegetation in the Cleveland National Forest.

Fire officials said they had surrounded 40 percent of the week-old blaze straddling the Riverside-San Diego County line about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles but couldn’t predict when the fire would be contained.

More than 2,000 firefighters struggled against constantly changing winds and high temperatures.

The fire, however, is actually doing some good, Forest Service officials said. The blaze is consuming aging plants that have choked new forest growth, including dead trees infested with insects.

″Some of that area was so dense a person couldn’t walk through,″ said Forest Service spokeswoman Roxanne Stager.

The historic Mount Palomar observatory and a sanctuary for bald eagles and spotted owls that was threatened earlier by the inferno were out of danger, firefighters said.

In Utah, firefighters contained a 60-acre brush fire just east of Provo on Saturday morning after a two-day struggle on the steep slopes of the Wasatch Mountains.

In south-central Montana, a grassland fire on the Crow Indian Reservation leaped fire lines and burned about 2,000 acres of grassland overnight, but did not threaten any buildings, officials said.

In northwestern Nebraska, firefighters mopped up a blaze that consumed up to 3,000 acres of timbered canyon and forced the evacuation of 30 people earlier in the week.

In Wyoming, a small fire affected 45 acres Saturday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in the northwestern part of the state. Officials said they hoped to contain it by Monday.

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