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Crews battle dozens of Western fires

By Shannon Dininny

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 15 2012 9:45 a.m. MDT

Flames curl behind as a water truck keeps fire away from a house Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, on Bettas Road near Cle Elum, Wash. The fast-moving wildfire has burned 60 homes across nearly 40 square miles of central Washington grassland, timber and sagebrush. No injuries have been reported but more than 400 people have been forced to flee.

Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

CLE ELUM, Wash. — Calmer winds on gave Washington state firefighters hope of containing a blaze that left dozens of families homeless, while residents of two small Idaho towns planned to gather Wednesday and discuss evacuation plans because of a growing nearby wildfire.

About 800 people were assigned to fight the Taylor Bridge fire located near Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle. Better weather conditions made fire managers optimistic.

"We should have a good day," incident commander Rex Reed said early Wednesday.

In Idaho, fire managers tried to gather people in Featherville and Pine in the central part of the state to discuss evacuation plans as the Trinity Ridge that's burning on about 100 square miles blaze grew closer. Campers in the area have already been told to leave.

Dry conditions, heat and strong winds are taxing thousands of firefighters in California. And smoke from fires near Sacramento, Calif., had day care centers keeping kids indoors, school districts moving practice times for sports teams and doctors telling the elderly and very young to not go outside.

A wildfire west of Polson, Mont., burned about 7 square miles of grassland and timber and forced the evacuations of 15 residents.

Swirling wind vexed firefighters in Washington state much of Tuesday.

"Chaotic," Kittitas County Undersheriff Clayton Myers said. "It was one of those things you never felt like you were in control, because things kept changing with the wind."

Brad Rorem and his two sons saw the fire under a bridge construction site, where it started, just down the hill from their cabin near Cle Elum. They fled when it ran in their direction.

"It just shot up so fast," he said, adding later: "We feel really fortunate to have gotten off the mountain in time."

Hours later and several miles to the east, Miriam Greenman left her home with her 6-year-old son, Nathaniel, a handful of clothes and some of his favorite toys to comfort him. Their fish stayed behind.

"I feel bad about the fish, but I figured he was in water and he'd have to tough it out," she said.

By Tuesday evening, their homes had survived the blaze, but many neighbors weren't so lucky. About 70 homes and hundreds of outbuildings had burned, state and local officials said.

No injuries have been reported, but the fire danger is extreme due to wind, heat and dry conditions.

Desperate neighbors tried to cut out containment lines with hand tools to help protect property threatened by the fast-moving fire, while others loaded up horse trailers to help evacuate livestock to the county fairgrounds.

Firefighters on Wednesday focused on preventing the fire from threatening a housing development near Cle Elum and moving into a stand of timber.

The fire that broke out Monday at a bridge construction site is about 10 percent contained. At least 400 homes with an estimated 900 people have been evacuated.

A blaze near the community of Aguanga, Calif., in Riverside County had grown to about 4 1/2 square miles just a few hours after breaking out. One person was airlifted to a hospital for treatment of serious burns, state fire officials said. No details on the person's identity or injuries were released.

Thirty-two homes were evacuated and at least one two-story house was destroyed. Animal control officials were helping homeowners remove livestock from the area, including a dozen alpacas from a farm.

Some 40 miles away in San Diego County, one of four lightning-sparked fires came dangerously close to rural ranch houses. The fires burned a total of about 9 square miles and some were expected to merge overnight, said state fire spokeswoman Roxanne Provaznik.

But in Northern California, crews made progress against a wildfire that threatened 500 homes in the Spring Valley and Long Valley communities, allowing hundreds of residents to return home.

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

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