Half-million acres burning in 10 Western states

RIDGECREST, Calif. - Wildfires raged in 10 Western states Monday, crackling through a half-million acres of timber, bush and brush. One of the biggest fires burned untamed after incinerating seven homes in a Sierra Nevada hamlet.

Nearly 50 blazes have blackened 537,791 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the past two weeks.

It's the worst fire season since 1988, when 5 million acres burned in the West, said Michelle Barret, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

''There were 2.2 million acres burned year-to-date in 1988. We're already at 3.5 million and we're just coming into fire season in most of the West,'' Barret said.

Fire bosses said it would be weeks before some of the blazes could be contained, and dry lightning forecast for Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon was expected to bring more blazes.

''The West is just in a terrible time,'' Barret said. ''Dry lightning doesn't bode well for us. You couldn't write a more dangerous situation than the one we have right now. In this game, weather is everything.''

With at least 10,714 firefighters deployed, resources stretched thin and fatigue setting in, the Pentagon ordered up soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.,

''Hallelujah!'' Barret said. About 500 soldiers will arrive in Idaho on Tuesday for on-the-job training. About 500 Marines are expected to arrive in Boise on Friday.

The largest wildfire in California, a 63,275-acre inferno in Sequoia National Forest, was burning on the eastern side of the Southern Sierra, 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Seven homes - including several mobile homes - were destroyed Saturday in the Kennedy Meadows area, a hamlet at the 6,000-foot-level on the south fork of the Kern River. Accessible only by steep roads, the community is popular for camping and fishing but is so remote it only got phone service last year.

Most of the hamlet's 43 permanent residents fled when flames moved through during the weekend. Those residents were still out of their homes Monday.

Nearly 1,600 firefighters, aided by the water-dropping sorties of 17 helicopters and tankers, had it 15 percent surrounded Monday with full containment estimated Aug. 10. There were 11 minor firefighter injuries.

It was one of six California fires, including a 2,500-acre blaze burning five miles east of Temecula on the Pechanga Indian Reservation and the Agua Tibia Wilderness of Cleveland National Forest. Thirty cabins were briefly threatened.

Some 700 firefighters and a dozen water-dropping air tankers and helicopters had it 10 percent surrounded. Full containment was not expected until Aug. 8.

There were 13 wildfires in Idaho, including the 77,000-acre Salmon-Challis National Forest blaze in the east-central area of the state. In southeast Idaho, the 850-acre West Fork blaze threatened 10 homes and 10 commercial structures in Lava Hot Springs.

Montana firefighters battled nine fires, including a giant six-blaze complex of fires that blackened 48,700 acres five miles east of Ashland in the southeast corner of the state.

In northeast Nevada, homes were threatened by the lightning-caused 65,778-acre South Cricket grazing land fire 15 miles northeast of Wells. In the southeastern area, another fire burning in 15,500 acres of pinion pine and juniper northeast of Pioche, Nev., also threatened structures.


On the Net:

National Fire Information Center: http://www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.html


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