Humidity Helps Firefighters Tame Huge California Wildfire

Friday, July 13th 2007, 11:00 am
By: News On 6

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ After a week of battling high temperatures, gusting winds and lightning, firefighters caught enough of a break from a storm system to tame California's largest wildfire.

The blaze in the Inyo National Forest was in ``mop-up mode'' after blackening nearly 55 square miles, and officials there were sending the fire crews to help out elsewhere, fire information officer Jim Wilkins said.

Firefighters were struggling to contain a 12,660-acre fire in the Los Padres National Forest that threatened to jump a river and spread into the small town of Tepusquet, near the central coast. It remained 37 percent contained, unchanged from the day before. The rugged landscape made it difficult for crews to maintain fire lines, officials said.

Wildfires were still burning elsewhere in California and 11 other western states on Thursday, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

Utah firefighters continued fighting the biggest blaze in state history on Thursday, which had spread across 549 square miles by Thursday, authorities said. The fire about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City was 30 percent contained, officials said. Cooler temperatures and high humidity helped fire crews there Thursday, who worked to contain fires before thunderstorms moved across the state.

Once ranked No. 1 by the National Interagency Fire Center, the 3-square-mile fire was 50 percent contained after firefighters used a bulldozer and intentional burn to slow its growth near a coal mine and methane vents, said Steve Politsch, a fire information officer.

In Arizona, a fire that had burned about 11 square miles and threatened buildings at the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson was 80 percent contained Thursday, and the telescope complex was expected to reopen for scientific observations Friday. Officials said the fire was only a minor threat to the observatory on Thursday, and it was expected to be fully contained by Saturday.

Nevada's largest blaze _ near the Idaho line _ had grown to about 128 square miles Thursday and was 70 percent contained, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center Manager Bill Roach said.

In southern Idaho, more than 230 firefighters had an 81-square-mile fire about 40 percent contained.

Crews in South Dakota were hoping cool and cloudy weather would help them battle a blaze that killed one homeowner and destroyed 30 houses. The blaze had covered more than 15 square miles and was 40 percent contained Wednesday.

In Washington, authorities said they had 100 percent containment on two wildfires near Wenatchee, about 100 miles east of Seattle, and 90 percent containment on a wildfire further north in Okanogan County.

More record heat was forecast in the Northwest, adding to the problems faced by crews battling the fires in Washington. High temperatures up to 107 degrees were forecast for Thursday and Friday in south-central Washington.

Officials declared California's 35,000-acre Inyo fire mostly under control, but said it would remain listed at just 80 percent containment as the western flank continued burning in an area with little vegetation that's too treacherous for crews to access, Wilkins said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Inyo County on Wednesday to free up state resources for fighting the blaze and helping residents of Independence whose water supply was contaminated by the fire.

The Inyo fire has injured 11 firefighters and destroyed six homes in the area north of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental U.S.