High temperatures taunt firefighters as wildfires burn in dry Calif., other Western states
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Clouds rolled across eastern California on Tuesday, giving firefighters hope for moisture to help them battle huge wildfires in the parched Sierra foothills, officials said.
But the arriving weather front also carried a threat of wind and lightning that could spread flames and start new fires.
Wildfires burned in at least six states across the West, much of which is tinder-dry from a heat wave. Firefighters braced for triple-digit temperatures in many areas.
"It's hotter than hell, and it's smokier than hell," said Hoss Strode, who runs a hotel and restaurant in Wagontire, Ore.
A series of fires on 30,000 acres north of Wagontire threatened at least 30 homes Tuesday, shut down much of a national forest and slowed traffic on a U.S. highway across the center of Oregon.
The fires, only 3 percent contained Tuesday, were moving toward the towns of Burns and Hines.
Lower temperatures and lighter wind in Northern California had allowed crews to make significant progress toward taming a 35,000-acre fire in the Inyo National Forest. The state's largest blaze, sparked by lightning on Friday, was 80 percent contained Tuesday after destroying six homes and closing down trails into a popular wilderness area north of Mount Whitney.
On Sunday, the fire temporarily forced 200 residents of Independence to leave their homes and closed down a long stretch of Highway 395. Eleven firefighters had suffered minor injuries, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Pam Bierce said.
Along the coast, firefighters lost some ground in the Los Padres National Forest as flames there fed on brush and trees unburned in four decades. The 16-square-mile fire in Santa Barbara County was 30 percent contained and threatened 22 homes and tourist cabins, fire spokesman Joel Vela said.
Nevada's largest blaze -- near Jackpot and the Idaho line -- had blackened about 98 square miles, but was 45 percent contained, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center Manager Bill Roach said.
Weather was cool and cloudy Tuesday in the southwest corner of South Dakota, where crews expected to make significant progress on a wildfire near Hot Springs that killed a homeowner and destroyed 30 houses. The blaze had covered more than 15 square miles and was 20 percent contained Tuesday morning.
"We're starting to gain a hold on this thing," Joe Lowe, state wildland fire suppression coordinator, told many of the 500 firefighters near Hot Springs on Tuesday. "It's not over yet but we're getting close."
Wildfires kept the Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona closed Tuesday, while firefighters began to get a handle on an ornery 1,800-acre blaze in Coconino National Forest, authorities said. About 25 vacation homes remained under evacuation orders.
In central Utah, crews continued fighting the biggest wildfire in state history, which increased to 469 square miles Tuesday, authorities said. The fire about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City was 10 percent contained.
Power was restored to Utah's Blundell Geo Thermal Power Plant after a fire burned within about 150 yards of it. The flames forced employees to evacuate Friday, and four were trapped inside.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)