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Wildfires threaten homes in several western states

By Terry Collins

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 3:40 a.m. MDT

SAN FRANCISCO — Wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes and threatened hundreds more in several western U.S. states, including Idaho, where an on-duty firefighter was killed by a falling tree.

Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, was killed Sunday as she worked a fire near Orofino, the U.S. Forest Service said. Her older brother also is a wild-land firefighter in Idaho, where 12 blazes are burning.

"The Forest Service is devastated by the loss of one of our own," Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said.

Officials were investigating the death, which came on the same day that another firefighter narrowly escaped a wildfire in southeastern Oregon.

That firefighter was forced to deploy her emergency shelter in an area overrun by wind-whipped flames. She suffered minor burns to a leg and forearm and minor smoke inhalation.

Her 20-person federal crew made it to a safety zone and was pulled off the fire. The blaze scorched about 653 square miles in remote terrain straddling Oregon and Nevada, where five ranches in the Kings River Valley were evacuated.

A crew in central Washington state also barely outran flames Monday at a wind-driven fire in Kittitas County. The firefighters managed to drive to safety as they got ahead of the Taylor Bridge fire, said Richelle Risdon, a county fire spokeswoman.

That same fire destroyed 40 homes since it ignited Monday east of the town of Cle Elum, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Grassel. Within hours, it had grown to about 23 square miles, according to fire commanders.

Officials said more homes were burning or under threat near the small town about 60 miles west of Seattle, but no injuries were reported so far. Grassel said the fire crept within six miles of the nearby city of Ellensburg, though crews stopped its forward movement.

Some property at a chimpanzee sanctuary outside Cle Elum burned but the animals were uninjured, Diana Goodrich of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest told KING-TV.

In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 34 square miles, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state's western desert.

Meanwhile, crews in Northern California made progress against an aggressive wildfire in Lake County that grew to more than 9 square miles and destroyed three buildings. Officials lifted evacuation orders for the residents of nearly 500 homes late Monday, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The fire is still actively burning, but burning in a remote area," Berlant said. "It's burning in brush that's tinder dry and hasn't seen a fire in decades."

A separate wildfire to the north was threatening about 600 homes, prompting some evacuation orders in the Seneca and Rush Creek communities in Plumas National Forest. The fire burned about 55 square miles, officials said.

Fires across California have affected some national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

In Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is in Northern California, a fire forced the closure of a highway and several trails. It burned 33 square miles of pine forests and thick brush, fire officials said.

At Joshua Tree, park officials said a fire burned up to 300 acres of rocky, tree-covered hillsides, closing the scenic Keys View Road.

A handful of other fires in hot and dry Southern California was sparked by lightning, including three burning out of control northeast of Julian. None were threatening any structures.

Associated Press writers John Miller in Boise, Idaho; Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore.; Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City, and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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