Saturday, January 20, 2018

Crews battle dozens of Western fires

FEATHERVILLE, Idaho — Across the West, dozens of fires fueled by searing heat, dry weather and strong winds have added up to misery for weary residents who already are fed up with one of the region's worst fire seasons in decades.

On Wednesday, hundreds of residents of two small Idaho towns were packing their belongings and clearing out of the way of a massive wildfire burning in a gulch a few miles away and expected to hit town later this week.

Wildfires also tormented homeowners in Washington, Oregon and California, as arid conditions kept fire crews busier than usual across the region.

Jennifer Smith of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said not only are more wildfires occurring in the West this year than last, but the nation's fires have gotten bigger.

As of Wednesday, 42,933 wildfires had been reported this season, burning 6.4 million acres. The 10-year average for this period is 52,535 fires but covering only 5 million acres, she said.

"Nevada has been hammered, and Idaho has some big ones that are going to burn until the snow falls," Smith said.

Idaho's Trinity Ridge Fire has burned more than 100 square miles in the past two weeks. It's bearing down on Pine and Featherville, recreation getaways in the mountains 105 miles northeast of Boise.

On Wednesday, there was a steady stream of traffic with people leaving Pine and Featherville. A veil of smoke has loomed over Featherville for several days, a signal for many that evacuation orders may soon be coming.

In central Washington, hundreds of firefighters using planes, helicopters, bulldozers and hand tools managed to contain 25 percent of wildfire that has destroyed dozens of homes across about 35 square miles.

Hundreds of people have fled their homes and more evacuations were ordered Wednesday on north flank of the Taylor Bridge wildfire near Cle Elum. Authorities said at least 60 homes have been destroyed, but conditions were too dangerous to make an exact count.

More than 800 people are working to suppress the fire that started Monday.

In Northern California, firefighters already dealing with extreme heat braced Wednesday for possible thunderstorms and strong winds as they tried to conquer several raging wildfires.

In Southern California, wildfires threatened dozens of homes after burning through more than 19 square miles of brush amid a brutal heat wave.

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