Firefighters keep wildfire out of evacuated Washington town
LIND, Wash. (AP) — A small town in Washington state that was evacuated due to a fast-moving fire was largely spared Friday, while in California crews made progress against the state’s deadliest and largest wildfire of the year.
Adams County Sheriff Dale Wagner said the fire that had been threating the eastern Washington town of Lind was contained after burning six homes and eight other structures. He said firefighters were watching over hot spots.
The sheriff’s office had told Lind’s residents to evacuate on Thursday afternoon because of the encroaching flames. With the help of state and local resources, the fire started to calm down and by 8 p.m. Thursday all evacuation orders were lifted for the community of about 500 people approximately 75 miles (121 kilometers) southwest of Spokane.
Wagner said Friday that a firefighter who suffered smoke inhalation and was flown to Spokane for treatment had been released and was recuperating at home.
State officials said Friday that Washington is experiencing its worst fire activity of the year between the fire in Lind and several others that sparked this week, The Seattle Times reported.
With rising temperatures and thunderstorms in the forecast, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and officials with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said at a media briefing.
Meanwhile, in California, fire crews on Friday morning were working amid thunderstorms that brought light precipitation along with the possibility of dry lightning that could spark new blazes.
A separate set of firefighters in the area have been put on standby to jump on any new fires, according to Mike Lindbery, a spokesperson for the McKinney Fire in California’s Siskiyou County near the Oregon border.
The Smokey Fire, which ignited Thursday, was one such new fire. Crews have kept it to 34 acres (13.76 hectares) and hope to have it contained within the next day or two, Lindbery said.
Forecasters have also warned that spiking temperatures and plunging humidity levels could create conditions for further wildfire growth.
California and much of the rest of the West is in drought and wildfire danger is high, with the historically worst of the fire season still to come. Fires are burning throughout the region.
After five days of no containment, the nearly 60,000-acre (24,000-hectare) McKinney Fire remained 10% surrounded on Friday. Bulldozers and hand crews were making progress carving firebreaks around much of the rest of the blaze, fire officials said.
At the fire’s southeastern corner, evacuation orders for sections of Yreka, home to about 7,800 people, were downgraded to warnings, allowing residents to return home but with a caution that the situation remained dangerous.
About 1,300 people remained under evacuation orders, officials said at a community meeting Wednesday evening.
The fire didn’t advance much at midweek, following several days of brief but heavy rain from thunderstorms that provided cloudy, damp weather. But as the clouds clear and humidity levels drops in the coming days, the fire could roar again, authorities warned.
“This is a sleeping giant right now,” said Darryl Laws, a unified incident commander on the blaze.
Weekend temperatures could reach triple digits as the region dries out again, said meteorologist Brian Nieuwenhuis with the National Weather Service office in Medford, Oregon.
The blaze broke out July 29 and has charred nearly 92 square miles (238 square kilometers) of forestland, left tinder-dry by drought. More than 100 homes and other buildings have burned and four bodies have been found, including two in a burned car in a driveway.
The fire was driven at first by fierce winds ahead of a thunderstorm cell. More storms earlier this week proved a mixed blessing. A drenching rain Tuesday dumped up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) on some eastern sections of the blaze but most of the fire area got next to nothing, said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst.
The latest storm also brought concerns about possible river flooding and mudslides. A private contractor in a pickup truck who was helping the firefighting effort was hurt when a bridge gave out and washed away the vehicle, Kreider said. The contractor’s injuries were not life-threatening.
The progress against the flames came too late for many people in the scenic hamlet of Klamath River, which was home to about 200 people before the fire reduced many of the homes to ashes, along with the post office, community center and other buildings.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. California has seen its largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the last five years.
The Moose Fire in Idaho as of Friday had burned more than 105 square miles (273 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest near the town of Salmon. Steep terrain and extremely dry fuel conditions were continuing to pose challenges for firefighters but officials said firefighters were hoping to extend and strengthen containment lines with more favorable weather forecast in the next few days.
Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Haven Daley in Klamath River, Calif., and Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.
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