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Wildfires bedevil firefighters

By
STUART GLASCOCK United Press International

A 100,000-acre wildfire, whipped by hot, gusty winds and dry lightning, bedeviled firefighters Wednesday in Washington state, and showed few signs of relenting. The nation's fastest-growing wildfire, barely 55 percent contained, grew 14,000 acres since Tuesday, bringing the total acreage scorched to 176,000 acres in Washington, authorities said. Weather-related factors also hampered firefighting efforts at 18 other major fires in five Western states -- Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Overall, 15,200 firefighters, including two battalions of Marines from California and two Army battalions from Texas, were deployed to firelines. Washington Gov. Mike Lowry declared a state of emergency and state officials issued a burn ban prohibiting smoking and all outdoor fires on all state forest, range and grasslands. The fires have destroyed 38 homes and caused over $30 million in damage. In rugged mountains south of Leavenworth, Wash., firefighters cut about half of the 30 miles of fire lines they needed to contain the Rat Creek fire. The blaze had torched more than 13,600 acres and was growing on both sides of Highway 97. North of Leavenworth, the Hatchery Creek fire had grown to 7,290 acres. Weary fire crews fought hard to maintain morale. In one camp, each day's battle is logged into a win-loss column, said Ron Marvin, spokesman for the Forest Service at the Leavenworth command center. 'We're keeping an informal tally,' Marvin said. 'The fire won two days. Firefighters won two days. Yesterday was a tie. There's not a clear winner here.

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We're trying to be optimistic. This is a very complex fire.' He said the biggest challenge was the varied terrain around the Hatchery Creek fires, Marvin said. The mostly forested area is steep and rocky, and is popular among rock climbers. In some areas that are hard for crews and equipment to reach, firefighters used dynamite to blast fire lines. Two bulldozers have rolled over, Marvin said. 'We are pushing the limits of what people and dozers can do,' he said. The Hatchery Creek fire was caused by lightning, but the Rat Creek fire was 'human-caused but not arson,' the Forest Service said. No other details were released. Firefighters had constructed 43 miles of fire lines around the Tyee Creek fire, leaving 30 miles of fire lines left to build before it would be surrounded. More than 100, 20-person crews have been dispatched along the ridges and canyons of Tyee Creek, Forest Service firefighters said. The weather near the Tyee fire Wednesday was hot, sticky, muggy, smokey and officials were bracing for more hot, dry and gusty winds, said Elaine Larson, spokeswoman for the Tyee Complex command center. 'It doesn't look good. It looks bad,' she said. 'The mood is watchful, guarded. We're stepping into the operations center every few minutes for weather reports. We're stretched thin and the weather is not going to be easy.' The Forest Service issued a red flag warning Wednesday for thunderstorms and lightning. Strong westerly winds and low humidity badgered about 1,400 firefighters who were battling an 8,000-acre blaze in eastern Montana. Thunderstorms brought some moisture to Nevada, where about 300 firefighters were fighting a 21,000-acre fire, but the stroms carried mostly dry lightning, officials said.

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