Western US states close ranks on fires

Crews from other states flocked to Montana on Saturday to fight a fire that left five firefighters injured as the western United States battled a new series of fires that have devastated rural lands and destroyed homes.

Miami World / AP

Progress was made on the nation’s largest fire, the Bootleg in Oregon, but less than half have been contained, fire officials reported. The growth of the widespread fire has slowed, but increased activity is expected from the flames and thousands of homes remain at risk on its eastern side, according to authorities.

“This fire is resistant to excavator pits,” Jim Hanson, a fire behavior analyst, said at a news conference Saturday from the Oregon Department of Forestry headquarters. “With the critically dry weather we face and conditions fanning the flames, firefighters are forced to constantly reevaluate their lines of control and seek contingency options.”

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in four northern counties on Friday due to wildfires that he said are causing “extremely risky conditions for the safety of people and property.” The proclamation paves the way for more state support.

On Saturday, crews from California and Utah arrived in Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte reported. Five firefighters were injured Thursday when gusts of wind blew flames at them as they battled the Devil’s Creek Fire that ripped through rough and rugged terrain near the rural town of Jordan.

The firefighters remained hospitalized on Friday, but the Land Management Bureau spokesman declined to report the seriousness of their injuries. The firefighters included three crew members from the United States Federal Fish and Wildlife Service from North Dakota and two firefighters from the United States Forest Service from New Mexico.

In California, the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe continued to scorch trees and a chaparral and put communities on both sides of the California and Nevada border at risk. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 4 in Alpine County, has destroyed at least 10 properties.

Authorities issued mandatory eviction orders Friday in California’s Butte County as the Dixie fire continues to grow violently eastward, becoming the state’s largest fire so far this year.

In north-central Washington, firefighters battled several fires in Okanogan County, which threatened hundreds of homes. And in northern Idaho, east of Spokane, Washington, a small fire near Silverwood theme park sparked evictions Friday afternoon in surrounding areas.

Although warm weather with evening winds posed a continuing threat to the spread of some fires, forecasts over the weekend indicate possible scattered thunderstorms in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and other states. However, meteorologists noted that some could be dry storms that produce little rain, but lots of lightning, which can start new fires.

More than 80 large fires continued in the country, most in western states where some 553,000 hectares (1.4 million acres) of land have burned.

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