Firefighters keep busy as West remains ablaze
August 14, 2001
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Crews throughout the West continued to fight nearly 300 wildfires that scorched more than 100,000 acres since the week began.
The fires burned Tuesday in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, uniting more than 10,000 firefighters in a struggle against smoke, flames and hot temperatures.
The fires destroyed dozens of homes and threatened many more, but crews were able to make progress against some of the more difficult ones.
In Monument, Ore., a wildfire raged within three miles of the 150-person town, prompting Gov. John Kitzhaber to declare a ”state of conflagration,” which means any agencies sending firefighters and gear to the fire will be reimbursed by the state.
Longtime residents were less scared.
”Nope, there are no plans to evacuate,” said Carmen Woodell, the city clerk in this eastern Oregon spot. She saw lots of smoke outside her City Hall window, ”but it’s a long ways away.”
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The city clerk’s faith seemed justified. By 10 p.m. the fire was 50 percent contained, and only 12 homes were threatened, not the entire town.
A wildfire also flared near Ukiah, just northeast of Monument. It had grown to about 5,500 acres by Tuesday night and was threatening three homes.
In Washington state, dozens of homes and cabins were threatened by fires burning across thousands acres of grass, sagebrush and timber from the Cascade Range east to the Idaho border.
The largest blaze, the Virginia Lake fire complex on the Colville Indian Reservation, destroyed nine homes and was threatening another 50, said Ellen Weston, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Coordination Center in Portland.
Another fire, this one near Leavenworth, Wash., a place that attracts tourists, threatened 50 homes.
Most fires were started by dry lightning strikes and spread quickly through parched land.
”The lightning has receded, so it gives us a day or two to make some progress,” Weston said.
The trouble, Weston said, is that a cold front is predicted to come through after Wednesday, bringing the strong wind that makes fighting fires extra treacherous.
”We don’t need the winds, but it looks like we’re going to get them.”
In other states, more than 200,000 acres have burned in Nevada since late last week, most of it grassland. A pall of smoke obscured the mountains north of Interstate 80 along a 50-mile stretch between Battle Mountain and Winnemucca.
In Northern California, more than 4,000 firefighters were battling four separate fires that destroyed several homes.
The 30 or so wildfires burning in Oregon have stretched firefighting agencies to the limit. Kitzhaber this week freed up 200 National Guardsmen to help out with mop-up duties making it possible for more firefighters to be sent to fire lines.
Nearly 1,250 firefighters, water-dumping helicopters and aerial tankers were fighting the 5,100-acre Quartz Fire about 10 miles southwest of Ashland, Ore., near the California border. Concerns for about a dozen homes in a small patch of private land, known as Dog Fork, have eased a bit.
”They’re trying to pinch it down gradually as it moves through very dry forests,” said Tom Berglund, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Still, said Berglund, ”you’ve got 105 degree temperatures and dry fuels it’s an explosive situation.”