Governors in Idaho and Wyoming called in National Guardsmen Tuesday to bolster weary firefighters battling dozens of wildfires, while a remote California town mopped up after lightning-sparked blazes swept within feet of the community.
Fire forced officials to evacuate a hospital in the remote town for several hours.Favorable weather conditions Monday helped firefighters keep blazes from gaining much ground in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah. But the wildfires were far from out. And dozens of fires that have been allowed to burn for months in the vast interior of Alaska, largely in scrubland, have charred more than 1.2 million acres.
A fire flare-up prevented Yellowstone National Park officials from reopening the park's south entrance Tuesday, and they braced for possible stronger winds that could whip up the fires. Firefighters in Montana hoped to get the upper hand on fires that have blackened almost 200,000 acres.
In Idaho, Gov. Cecil Andrus placed the entire state under an extreme fire emergency, releasing National Guardsmen to reinforce 2,000 firefighters battling the worst wildfires.
But officials feared a weather front expected Tuesday would bring gusts that would push the flames past firebreaks.
Among the priorities was the 16,000-acre Battle Axe fire on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. It jumped the river to threaten a score of summer homes and an unoccupied forest ranger station and airstrip at Indian Creek.
In California, firefighters late Monday kept fast-moving fires from reaching a hospital, school and other buildings in remote Portola.
There were no injuries in the town of 1,600 residents, and the only building lost was a barn, as a fire shooting flames 150 feet high was halted at the eastern edge of the Sierra town.
About 30 patients and staff were evacuated from the Eastern Plumas District Hospital, first to a community hall several blocks away on the other side of the middle fork of the Feather River, which runs through the center of Portola, and then to other hospitals. The hospital was reopened after 51/2 hours.
Officials said an afternoon storm sparked about 20 fires around the community, about 45 miles northwest of Reno, Nev. Most of the fires continued burning Tuesday, blackening 1,200 acres.
One lightning strike started a fire behind Portola High School just a few minutes before classes were dismissed.
"When we walked out onto the field for (football) practice, it was just smoking," said Mike Muscatt, 15, adding that within a few minutes, "the flames were 80 feet high."
In Alaska, where some fires have been burning since April, the biggest blaze had covered more than 541,000 acres 50 miles north of Fairbanks. But the fires do not threaten any developed property or valuable timber, and a special interagency office handling fire information for the state has been disbanded for the season.
In Wyoming, firefighters in Yellowstone regained ground against one of the tougher fires roaring in the park, sealing off Old Faithful geyser from flames five miles away.
Continued calm winds allowed thousands of firefighters to make further inroads in their battle against 10 major fires, which have charred 450,000 acres of the park's 2.2 million acres.
Calm weather had prompted a decision to reopen Yellowstone's south entrance for the first time in 10 days, but park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt said fire activity put the area back in danger. She would not make a new prediction as to when the road, which has been closed for 10 days, would reopen.
Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan called out 120 Army and Air National Guard volunteers Monday to aid in the battle against a 15,000-acre blaze near Fayette Lake in the Bridger-Teton National Forest outside Yellowstone. The guardsmen were to go to Jackson for 32 hours of training, and the majority would then be sent to that blaze.