Fire Rages Through Sierra Nevada


Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


RIDGECREST, Calif. (AP) — A tiny mountain town went up in flames and eight homes were destroyed as a 63,270-acre wildfire continued its weeklong rampage through the Sierra Nevada.

The blaze that roared through Sequoia National Forest was only 15 percent contained late Sunday, and firefighters estimated it would take two weeks to surround, said Lee Bentley, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

More than 1,500 firefighters set backfires, sprayed foam and cut brush as they battled the spreading blaze that began July 22. Eight firefighters have been injured, and the fire has cost more than $3 million.

On Saturday, the fire took out houses and trailers in Pine Creek, part of a more broadly scattered community known as Kennedy Meadows, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles. It earlier burned eight outbuildings and lodges.

Some of the village's 43 permanent residents had heeded a mandatory evacuation issued days ago — but not all. The wife of a Pine Creek recluse, Ed Wilson, called the local Grumpy Bear's Restaurant to see if anyone knew of his whereabouts. She had last heard from him on Tuesday.

A U.S. Bureau of Land Management crew sent a fire truck to check up on Wilson. He was fine, and his home on the edge of the scorched area was untouched.

``We called his wife and she was very relieved,'' said Jan Gant, who owns the log cabin-style restaurant with her husband, Pat.

At a fire camp a few hundred yards away, several hundred firefighters sacked out in tents, catching a few hours of rest before returning to the lines. A fleet of 17 helicopters and air tankers, 13 bulldozers and 15 water tenders also fought the blaze Sunday.

The cause of the fire was undetermined.

It was one of 50 fires burning about 500,000 acres nationwide, the National Fire Information Center said. In the west, flames scorched Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Two smaller fires also burned in California: one on the Pechanga Indian Reservation in the Cleveland National Forest to the south, and another in Los Padres National Forest, where three firefighters have been injured.

Farther east, a fire triggered by lightning on Wednesday had scorched about 65,000 acres about 60 miles northeast of Elko, Nev.

In Montana, fires scorched 50,000 acres in Custer National Forest and threatened homes in the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. A fire near Helena had blackened nearly 23,000 acres and was still out of control, officials said.

In Colorado, the ancient Anasazi ruins survived a fire that consumed more than 23,000 acres in 10 days and uncovered more than 12 new archaeological sites. However, damage to Mesa Verde National Park's roads and utility lines could keep it closed for two more weeks.

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On the Net:

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