WASHINGTON governor says 'Things are really exploding'; crews make some progress in Ore.

Saturday, August 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEAVENWORTH, Wash. (AP) _ Icicle Ridge glowed orange as wind gusts drove a wildfire into the canyon below, setting fire to a campground and burning around at least one house.

Authorities ordered 25 more homes evacuated Friday and have warned residents in nearly 2,000 others near the Cascade Mountains tourist town to prepare to leave on short notice.

``Things are really exploding _ literally,'' Gov. Gary Locke said Friday after touring the nearby complex of fires that had burned over 5,000 acres about 80 miles east of Seattle.

Some firefighters were pulled off fire lines west of town Friday night because of the fire danger and the threat of high winds that were forecast, Locke said.

``Obviously it's very, very tense and very precarious,'' he said.

Across the West, 33 major fires were burning Saturday on 584,500 acres, with about 22,650 firefighters trying to keep the flames from spreading, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Some of the largest wildfires were in the high desert of northern and eastern Oregon, where tinder-dry sagebrush and juniper fueled flames. Statewide, 10 major fires were burning on 270,000 acres.

Marine and Army battalions were called up to assist in eastern Washington, where firefighters were struggling in sweltering heat and rugged terrain to fight several fires sparked by lightning this week. Locke declared a state of emergency in four counties Wednesday.

``This is only the third week of August. We're not through with this yet,'' the governor said.

Near Icicle Ridge, one man who had refused to evacuate checked in Friday to say the fire had burned past his house, said Cynthia Reichelt, a Forest Service spokeswoman. The man had been using sprinklers to soak his home when firefighters tried to persuade him to leave. They helped douse his two burning cars before departing, she said.

To the southwest, Chelan County sheriff's deputies used a helicopter to ferry more than a dozen hikers to safety after one hiker called his wife on a mobile phone.

``We weren't in mortal danger,'' said Jeff Kenoyer, 39, a backpacker who had been on Granite Mountain about 10 miles from the fire.

Sheriff Mike Brickert said there was some fear the hikers could become trapped by the fast-spreading flames. Friday morning provided a window to get them out before the threat of high winds.

``We have to get them out of there now, or they'll have to stay in there,'' said Greg Thayer, a fire information officer for the Wenatchee National Forest.

In Oregon, one fire threatening Monument, a ranching town of 150, doubled Thursday night to 21,000 acres, but the town remained untouched. Friday afternoon, about 800 firefighters were scraping and burning a perimeter around the town to deprive the fire of fuel.

``We're feeling better than we did 24 hours ago,'' said Tim Birr, a spokesman for the Monument fire effort.

The 25 mph wind gusts forecast in the region hadn't materialized, and officials said a town-wide evacuation look less likely. Still, helicopters continued emptying 1,100-gallon water buckets onto the flames, and fire trucks waited near homes closest to the blaze to protect them.

In Nevada, where fires have blackened more than 290,000 acres, the 92,000-acre Buffalo complex was nearly contained; and Northern California's largest blaze, a fire 50 miles north of Susanville, was declared contained at 67,700 acres.

Near Leavenworth, Sylvia and Steve DeForest were clearing pine needles away from their vacation home Friday and moving anything flammable, such as curtains, away from walls inside the house. They had already packed up irreplaceable items so they can dash if the time comes.

``If it cooks and blows and churns through here, there's not much they can do to stop it,'' Sylvia DeForest said.

Karen Harrison had a sprinkler running on a strip of grass along a driveway that she usually leaves to dry up in summer.

``I think the scare is if we get the wind,'' she said. ``Every time I look out the window, I'm going, `Oh, please don't blow.'''