Wildfire under control near Idaho nuclear facility

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Firefighters were able to surround a 30,000-acre blaze on Friday that had forced the evacuation of hundreds of employees at a nuclear facility.

The fire just outside the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory was the third fire this year to threaten one of the nation's nuclear facilities.

Decreasing winds overnight quelled the flames, and Friday afternoon fire crews built a second fire line to contain it. About 1,800 lab workers ordered out of three buildings on Thursday were able to return to their jobs Friday.

The lab's Advanced Test Reactor was being repaired and its wasn't operations weren't affected, laboratory spokeswoman Stacey Francis said. Utility crews were busy replacing 52 electrical poles damaged by the fire, and tests were being done to measure any radioactive release.

The earlier fires, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington, had raised concerns about the release of radioactive material, but federal officials have said there has been no danger. Air samples showed an increased - but not harmful - concentration of plutonium in public areas outside the Hanford reservation.

Elsewhere in the West, fires charred wildland in what has become the nation's worst fire season since 1996.

In California, evacuations were ordered as a fire blackened 25,000 acres of the Sequoia National Forest, creeping up to several homes on the forest's borders early Friday. More than 100 residents were forced to evacuate the area 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Low humidity and blustery winds helped double the blaze in size in a 24-hour period, said Doug Johnston, a Kern County fire engineer. The fire, which had been 35 percent contained Thursday, was only 29 percent contained Friday.

''This fire has shown extreme behavior,'' Forest Service spokesman Tony Diffenbaugh said.

Four firefighters suffered minor injuries.

In Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, a 40-mile fire line was keeping a 23,000-acre wildfire from spreading, and the park's archaeological treasures were safe, park officials said.

The Utah division of the Bureau of Land Management said a 12,000-acre fire near Leamington, 87 miles south of Salt Lake City, was about 40 percent contained. At least four fires in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest had burned nearly 2,100 acres, and 300 firefighters were working to control it Friday.

In Washington, farmers cut their own fire trails with tractors, trying to protect crops from a 6,000-acre range fire in the Columbia River Gorge. The fire, 12 miles southeast of Goldendale, was 70 percent contained but still posed a threat to 19 homes, wheat crops and a Yakama Nation ceremonial site.

Authorities said the origin of the fire was suspicious.

Firefighters in Montana were nearing containment of a fire that burned about 17,500 acres east of Helena in the scenic Canyon Ferry Lake region and forced about 300 families from the homes.

In Arizona, wind fueled a 3,500-acre fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to 5,000 acres in about three hours Friday.

A makeshift camp for firefighters had to be moved because the fire was advancing unpredictably, said fire spokeswoman Chadeen Palmer. Flames reached heights of 100 feet, and the fire was threatening a power line to the tiny community of Cibecue.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center sites: http://www.nifc.gov and http://www.nifc.gov/news/nicc.html

Mesa Verde National Park: http://www.nps.gov/meve


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