Erratic winds raised havoc as thousands of firefighters battled more than 60 blazes throughout the West, and a fast-moving grassfire raced into a forested San Francisco suburb, gutting five expensive houses and damaging two others.
With infernos raging over more than 915,000 acres of forestland in eight Western states Tuesday, the worst damage was in the posh Bay area suburb of Orinda, where houses worth $200,000 to $1 million dot the pine and oak studded hillsides.The fire was out within three hours, and nobody was injured, but the damage was quick and extensive.
Fire officials said the gutted houses, some of which were reduced to nothing but stone chimneys and outdoor grills, were valued at between $300,000 and $800,000, and the damage was well in excess of $2 million.
In fire-ravaged Yellowstone National Park, shifting winds blew the 90,000-acre North Fork fire over the Madison River on Tuesday, threatening the town of West Yellowstone 31/2 miles away, closing a busy road for nearly two hours and sending flames roaring toward Old Faithful Inn near the famous geyser.
The flareup did not immediately threaten the attraction, but sent firefighters scurrying to dig lines and "corner it in," fire spokesman Bill Pidanick said.
Before it was beaten back, the flare-up blocked the path to Old Faithful and forced visitors either to wait it out or go hundreds of miles out of their way to enter or leave the park.
"Under these windy conditions, there's a possibility it could run towards Old Faithful and present a threat later on," Pidanick said.
Nearly half a million acres of the park have been hit by fire this summer.
Erratic winds also hit the Dry Fork fire in Montana. The blaze was one of the smaller of that state's fires on Tuesday morning, just 1,500 acres, but "the next thing we knew it had gone to 11,000," said Mike Ferry of the Boise Interagency Fire Center. "Wind pushed it into some standing dead and downed lodgepole pine, and it just took off from there."
The Wolf Lake fire again threatened Canyon Village, forcing crews to spray foam on buildings in case the flames jump a road into Yellowstone's biggest village that includes stores, lodging, restaurants and a visitor's center.
The south entrance to the park remained closed, and officials said they did not expect it to open Wednesday because of the danger from flaming debris.
In Idaho, where more than a dozen fires charred about 70,000 acres, much of it valuable timber, a state of extreme fire emergency continued after Gov. Cecil Andrus signed a declaration that allows him to call out National Guard troops.
The biggest fire was the 17,000-acre Battleaxe fire burning in the Challis National Forest of central Idaho.
Several other Idaho fires, including one near Hells Canyon Dam in the Payette National Forest, blew out of control in the shifting winds Tuesday, and millions of dollars worth of timber went up in smoke.
Ferris said meteorologists were keeping close track of the weather in the fire areas, but the news was not good.
"It's not looking any better," he said. "We're having above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation, and there's no relief in sight for another 10 days. The winds are really a factor at this point."