Crews bat­tling wild­fires in West, Canada gain ground

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - DON THOMP­SON In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Christo­pher We­ber of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

OROVILLE, Calif. —Crews were mak­ing progress Mon­day against dozens of fires across Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ari­zona and New Mex­ico, and into Canada.

Au­thor­i­ties were hope­ful some of the 4,000 evac­uees from Oroville would be able to re­turn Mon­day as winds di­min­ished and fire­fight­ers work­ing in rugged ter­rain ex­tended con­tain­ment lines.

When Chuck Wilsey was or­dered to flee over the week­end as a wild­fire roared near his ranch home in Oroville, he was ready. He started keep­ing his truck and camper loaded with sup­plies in Fe­bru­ary, when some of the heav­i­est win­ter rains on record in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia nearly led to cat­a­strophic flood­ing be­low the na­tion’s tallest dam.

“Fire and flood so close to­gether,” he mar­veled on Mon­day at a Red Cross shel­ter. “We just try to stay pre­pared,”

Wilsey, 53, and his fam­ily were among the about 4,000 peo­ple evac­u­ated as flames raced through grassy foothills in the Sierra Ne­vada, about 60 mile north of Sacra­mento. Sher­iff ’s deputies drove through neigh­bor­hoods an­nounc­ing evac­u­a­tion or­ders over loud­speak­ers.

Wilsey said he be­lieved that his home was still stand­ing be­cause crews were able to keep flames from jump­ing a key moun­tain road.

The blaze burned nearly 9 square miles of grass, in­jured four fire­fight­ers and de­stroyed at least 17 struc­tures. It was 35 per­cent con­tained.

The area burn­ing is south­east of Oroville, near where 200,000 res­i­dents down­stream from the 770-foot-high Oroville Dam were briefly evac­u­ated in Fe­bru­ary when the struc­ture’s spill­ways be­gan crum­bling. Wilsey did not have to leave his home that time.

Cal­i­for­nia fire of­fi­cials warned res­i­dents in wild­fire ar­eas to get out im­me­di­ately if au­thor­i­ties is­sue evac­u­a­tion or­ders.

Bennet Mil­loy, spokesman for the state’s De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion, said Mon­day that of­fi­cials had to send in three en­gine crews to res­cue a per­son who ig­nored week­end or­ders to leave as flames ap­proached moun­tain homes. Mil­loy said of­fi­cials will al­ways try to save hu­man lives, but the ef­fort can some­times drain re­sources needed else­where. He noted that three en­gines can pro­tect up to 20 homes.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, at least 3,500 peo­ple re­mained out of their homes as a pair of fires raged at dif­fer­ent ends of Santa Bar­bara County. The larger of the two charred more than 45 square miles of dry brush and threat­ened more than 130 ru­ral homes. It was 15 per­cent con­tained.

The fires broke out dur­ing a blis­ter­ing week­end heat wave that top­pled tem­per­a­ture records. Slightly cooler weather is ex­pected to give crews a break in the com­ing days.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials said the wet win­ter caused thick spring blooms that are now dried out and burn­ing, mak­ing for un­pre­dictable fire be­hav­ior.

“You see rapid fire growth in a lot of these fires, larger acreage con­sump­tion, which makes it very dif­fi­cult to fire­fight­ers to fight,” said Mil­loy.

In Colorado, crews were wind­ing down the fight against a wild­fire that tem­po­rar­ily forced the evac­u­a­tion of hun­dreds of peo­ple near the re­sort town of Breck­en­ridge. Fire­fight­ers built con­tain­ment lines around at least 85 per­cent of the blaze.

In Ari­zona, rain helped fire­fight­ers work­ing a wild­fire in moun­tains over­look­ing Tuc­son while also cre­at­ing un­safe con­di­tions for the crews.

Fire man­age­ment of­fi­cials say mon­soon rains “hit the bull’s-eye” Sun­day, drop­ping more than 1 inch of rain in one area of the Santa Catalina Moun­tains. How­ever, the rain also caused flood­ing and washed out roads and was ac­com­pa­nied by light­ning, forc­ing fire­fight­ers to pause their work.

The fire has burned 42.6 square miles of grass, brush and tim­ber since start­ing June 30. It was 51 per­cent con­tained.

In Mon­tana, crews were gain­ing the up­per hand on a fire burn­ing south of the Fort Belk­nap In­dian Reser­va­tion.

In the north-cen­tral part of the state fire has burned more than 16 square miles in the Lit­tle Rocky Moun­tains and has threat­ened the sur­round­ing towns of Zort­man, Lan­dusky, Hays and Lodge­pole.

The fire was 50 per­cent con­tained Mon­day morn­ing.

Across the bor­der in Canada, crews con­tended with more than 200 wild­fires in Bri­tish Columbia that have forced thou­sands to flee and de­stroyed dozens of build­ings, in­clud­ing sev­eral homes and two air­port hangars.

“We are just, in many ways, at the be­gin­ning of the worst part of the fire sea­son and we watch the weather, we watch the wind, and we pray for rain,” Bri­tish Columbia Premier Christy Clark said.

Rob Sch­weizer, man­ager of the Kam­loops Fire Cen­ter, said it had been an un­prece­dented 24 hours. “We prob­a­bly haven’t seen this sort of ac­tiv­ity that in­volves so many res­i­dences and peo­ple in the his­tory of the prov­ince of B.C.,” he said.

AP/The Cana­dian Press/DARRYL DYCK

A wild­fire burns early Mon­day on a moun­tain in the dis­tance east of Cache Creek be­hind a house in Bos­ton Flats, Bri­tish Columbia.

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