Western wildfires destroy homes, Idaho firefighter killed
Tuesday , August 14, 2012 - 11:50 AM
CLE ELUM, Wash.— A fast-moving wildfire burned at least 40 homes across about 23 square miles of central Washington, one several blazes burning Tuesday across the West threatening homes and sending up plumes of smoke.
Fire commanders estimate the Washington blaze has burned at least 15,000 acres since it started Monday afternoon east of the town of Cle Elum, said Mark Grassel, a state Department of Natural Resources spokesman.
Fire officials said more homes were threatened. So far, no injuries have been reported.
The fire crept within six miles of Ellensburg, which is about 75 miles east of Seattle, Grassel said. Crews stopped its forward movement, although it is not contained. State officials dispatched additional firefighters and equipment to the blaze from around the state. The state Transportation Department said a 14-mile section of U.S. Highway 97 was closed because of the fire.
In Idaho, a firefighter was killed by a falling tree Sunday. Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, was killed as she worked a fire near Orofino, the U.S. Forest Service said. Her older brother also is a wild-land firefighter in Idaho, where 12 blazes are burning.
A crew in central Washington state also barely outran flames Monday at the wind-driven fire in Kittitas County. The firefighters managed to drive to safety as they got ahead of the Taylor Bridge fire, said Richelle Risdon, a county fire spokeswoman.
Some property at a chimpanzee sanctuary outside Cle Elum burned.
The seven chimps at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest near Cle Elum are fine, but they seemed bewildered by the smoke in the air and changes in their routine brought by a wildfire that burned within a couple hundred feet of their building, a spokeswoman said.
"They definitely know there’s weirdness happening," Outreach Director Diana Goodrich said Tuesday. "There are still fire trucks here, and they’re curious about them."
In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 34 square miles, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state’s western desert.
Meanwhile, crews in Northern California made progress against an aggressive blaze in Lake County that grew to more than 9 square miles and destroyed three buildings. Officials lifted evacuation orders for the residents of nearly 500 homes late Monday, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"The fire is still actively burning, but burning in a remote area," Berlant said. "It’s burning in brush that’s tinder dry and hasn’t seen a fire in decades."
A separate wildfire to the north was threatening about 600 homes, prompting some evacuation orders in the Seneca and Rush Creek communities in Plumas National Forest. The fire burned about 55 square miles, officials said.
Fires across California have affected some national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.
In Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is in Northern California, a fire forced the closure of a highway and several trails. It burned 33 square miles of pine forests and thick brush, fire officials said.
At Joshua Tree, park officials said a fire burned up to 300 acres of rocky, tree-covered hillsides, closing the scenic Keys View Road.
A handful of other fires in hot and dry Southern California was sparked by lightning, including three burning out of control northeast of Julian. None were threatening any structures.
Associated Press writers Terry Collins in San Francisco, John Miller in Boise, Idaho; Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore.; Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City, Doug Esser in Seattle and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.