Rain Aids Crews Battling Western Fires
Rain, snow and cool weather Friday aided crews fighting forest and range fires that have blackened more than 100,000 acres in seven Western states, but thick smoke from fires raging in southern and northern Oregon was carried by winds as far south as San Francisco, officials said.
The National Weather Service issued a warning to motorists and those who suffer health problems in areas affected by the smoke, and visibility was reduced at several airports.
Weather forecasters said the smoke could later reach Los Angeles, another 400 miles down the coast.
Tracked by Satellites
“I have never experienced smoke like this before,” said Dan Guido, spokesman for the weather service in Redwood City, Calif. “Smoke plumes have been so thick that we have been able to track the fires on our weather satellites.”
A worker cutting trees for firefighters battling a 400-acre blaze in Washington’s Okanogan County was killed Friday, apparently by a falling tree, officials said. Mike Adams, 38, became the third man killed in Northwest fires this week.
Arnold Hartigan of the Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Ida., said between 4,000 and 5,000 firefighters were battling major blazes on 35,000 acres of private, state and federal land in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Nevada.
In addition, the Army was cleaning up hot spots on a 25,000-acre range fire on a military firing range near Yakima, Wash., that was not included in the fire center’s figures.
Hartigan also said four large fires in remote areas of Alaska east and north of Fairbanks had scorched about 49,970 acres, but were dying out because of the rain.
Cloud bursts dampened the largest of the forest fires in the Western states, an 8,600-acre blaze that began on Bland Mountain near Roseburg in southern Oregon. The fire killed two loggers Wednesday night and destroyed eight homes when it jumped across the South Umpqua River.
Touched Off by Sparks
The Bland Mountain fire was touched off by sparks from the faulty battery of a tractor driven by a ranch hand, authorities said.
Despite the rain, the blaze was still burning out of control in forests of fir and pine, and 552 firefighters were on the lines.
One firefighter was hospitalized with injuries Thursday night, officials said.
Rain also helped firefighters control a 900-acre blaze that destroyed 24 homes in a wooded suburb seven miles south of Spokane, Wash. Twenty other homes were damaged. Local officials said the fire caused at least $2 million damage.
And cooler weather was helping firefighters tame a 2,100-acre forest fire north of Boise, which was fanned earlier by high winds.
Headed Toward Control
“We have had the good fortune to have cooler temperatures, higher humidity and some scattered rain,” said Hartigan of the Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “We haven’t got everything controlled by a long shot, but we are headed in that direction.”
In Northern California, 3,300 acres had burned in the Modoc National Forest, and three fires in Arizona had burned more than 3,000 acres.
Rain extinguished a 4,000-acre range fire north of Cedar City, Utah, but a 2,000-acre fire in forests owned by Champion International southeast of Libby, Mont., was still out of control.
The weather was a pleasant surprise to firefighting officials, but they said it was not time to relax.
“The general feeling among the fire professionals is that we’re two or three weeks ahead of a normal fire season,” said Bill O’Brien of the Montana state lands office. “June was extremely dry . . . and we haven’t had the long, soaking rains you need to really change the fire danger.”