Western wildfires – Wind, heat, dry land fueling large blazes
Sunday ushered in calmer weather across the West, aiding firefighters who worked to contain flames fed by drought conditions and whipped up by wind and heat.
Firefighters across the Pacific Northwest are working to protect property from fast-moving wildfires that destroyed multiple homes in eastern Oregon, cut off power in Washington and forced thousands of evacuations throughout the region. A 70-year-old woman in Idaho died while preparing to flee as a wildfire expanded east of Lewiston.
A look at conditions:
Fire officials are hoping calmer weather Sunday will aid fire crews using air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers to attack several large fires burning in the Chelan area in central Washington that have destroyed more than 50 structures.
Fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said Sunday that more fire crews, including from the Washington National Guard, are being mobilized to fight six fires burning in the area.
Together, the blazes in the area have scorched more than 155 square miles, forced about 1,500 residents to flee their homes and caused power outages.
Officials say more than 50 structures have been destroyed and the number is likely to go higher.
Patterson said air tankers have established lines to keep the flames from reaching downtown Chelan, a popular central Washington resort town. Helicopters have been dipping into Lake Chelan to pull up water to battle blazes north of the lake.
"There were literally people on the beaches near that lake in their swim wear out on the lake right near it," Patterson told The Associated Press.
Light winds helped crews increase containment of a wildfire that destroyed several cabins and charred nearly 2-and-a-half square miles of forest near Los Angeles.
Officials revised the size of the fire downward after previous estimates put it at nearly 4 square miles.
The blaze in the Angeles National Forest above the suburbs of Glendora and Azusa was 20 percent contained and holding steady Sunday.
Six campgrounds remained evacuated around the fire that burned four cabins and an outbuilding when it broke out on Friday.
Ten firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, dehydration and minor injuries.
A wildfire that was sparked near a former rehabilitation center in Castaic Sunday burned three structures before spreading to at least 500 acres in the Angeles National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, a brush fire started near a riverbed in Montebello, a suburb 8 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, halted operations at an oil field, prompted the evacuation of a park and road closures.
A 45-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson, Montebello Fire Department Deputy Chief Dan Amador told the Whittier Daily News.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter made a hard landing while assisting in the firefight, causing a minor injury to a crew member, fire Inspector Chris Reade said.
The fire, which grew to about 200 acres, was 20 percent contained
In Northern California, firefighters made more gains against a wildfire 100 miles north of San Francisco that forced mountain-town dwellers to evacuate for the second time in days. Wind shifts sent smoke from the fire all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area, where residents turned to social media to report the haze. The National Weather Service said smoky conditions were likely to remain in the area throughout the weekend.
Two fires have charred dry Lower Lake, the most recent burning 39 square miles of thick brush and oak trees in Lake and Napa counties. It was 82 percent contained by Sunday.
An earlier, larger fire in the same area was fully contained Friday more than two weeks after it broke out. The blaze destroyed 43 homes.
Lightning storms across northwest Colorado are being blamed for several wildfires, including one north of Craig that was estimated at 450 acres. The Bureau of Land Management says no injuries have been reported and one home was evacuated.
The Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit says nine fires were ignited Saturday.
Firefighters say the fires were pushed in multiple directions by erratic winds from passing storms.
Better weather conditions Sunday aided firefighting efforts on most wildfires burning in western Montana and prevented new major fire starts.
In addition, no huge runs like the ones seen Friday on some fires were reported.
Fires are burning in Glacier National Park and in other national forests and on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
The state's biggest fire has burned nearly 21 square miles in Glacier.
A 70-year-old woman was killed when she fell while preparing to flee from a wildfire expanding quickly east of Lewiston, the Idaho County Sheriff's Department said Saturday.
Cheryl Lee Wissler of Adams Grade died Friday from a head injury she sustained when she fell, authorities said.
An estimated 30 homes and 75 other structures were lost to the blaze, the sheriff's department said. The fire is surrounding the small town of Kamiah, about 60 miles east of Lewiston, and burned to the edge of Clearwater River, directly across the water from downtown.
More than 750 people were assigned to fight several fires that together have charred more than 50 square miles in the area near Kamiah.
The region was already struggling after severe drought damaged wheat harvests, with farmers watching as their normally plump wheat kernels grew pinched and stunted from the lack of water. Though most of the wheat had been cut before the fires started, bone-dry stubble still covers the prairie and the forests surrounding Kamiah are parched.
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