Wildfires Rage in 10 Western States


Tuesday, August 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


RIDGECREST, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters battling stubborn wildfires that have consumed a half-million acres of timber, bush and brush in 10 Western states are getting help from the military this week.

Nearly 50 blazes have blackened more than 538,000 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the past two weeks.

With at least 10,700 firefighters deployed, resources stretched thin and fatigue setting in, the Pentagon ordered up soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

``Hallelujah!'' said Michelle Barret, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. About 500 soldiers were expected to arrive in Idaho on Tuesday for on-the-job training. About 500 Marines are expected to arrive Friday.

This year is shaping up to be the worst fire season since 1988, when 7.4 million acres were consumed nationwide.

``There were 2.2 million acres burned year-to-date in 1988. We're already at 3.5 million and we're just coming into fire season in most of the West,'' Barret said.

Fire bosses said it would be weeks before some of the blazes are contained. Dry lightning forecast for Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon was expected to ignite even more fires.

``The West is just in a terrible time,'' Barret said.

The largest wildfire in California, a 63,270-acre inferno in Sequoia National Forest, was burning on the eastern side of the Southern Sierra, 120 miles north of Los Angeles.

Seven homes were destroyed Saturday in the Kennedy Meadows area, a remote hamlet at 6,000 feet, and there were 11 minor firefighter injuries. Most of the hamlet's 43 permanent residents fled over the weekend and were still out of their homes Monday.

``There were 30- to 40-foot high flames. I thought my uniform was going to melt,'' firefighter Robert Cisneros said.

It was one of six California fires, including a 3,000-acre blaze burning five miles east of Temecula on the Pechanga Indian Reservation and the Agua Tibia Wilderness of Cleveland National Forest.

In Idaho, 13 wildfires were burning, including the 77,000-acre Salmon-Challis National Forest blaze. In southeast Idaho, the 850-acre West Fork blaze, threatened 10 homes and 10 commercial structures in Lava Hot Springs.

Montana firefighters battled nine fires, including a giant six-blaze complex that has blackened 48,700 acres five miles east of Ashland in the southeast corner of the state.

In northeast Nevada, homes were threatened by the lightning-caused 65,775-acre South Cricket grazing land fire 15 miles northeast of Wells. In the southeastern area, another fire burning in 15,500 acres of pinion pine and juniper northeast of Pioche, Nev., also threatened structures.

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On the Net:

National Fire Information Center: http://www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.html