8 firefighters burned while battling Northern California wildfire; other blazes burn in West

The Associated Press
August 9, 2014 12:25 PM

Boaters watch the progress of an intentionally-set backfire as it works its way around Billy Creek Ranch on the Idaho side of the Snake River on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. On Friday, officials said the nearby Big Cougar fire grew to 76 square miles. (AP Photo/Lewiston Tribune, Steve Hanks)

SAN FRANCISCO - Eight firefighters who suffered minor burns while battling a wildfire in Northern California left the hospital Saturday as crews gained enough ground on other blazes across the West to allow hundreds of people to return to their homes.

Three firefighters from Santa Clara County and five inmate firefighters from the Salt Creek Camp, a minimum-security facility in California, received minor burns as they battled a fast-moving blaze about 160 miles (257 kilometres) north of San Francisco in Mendocino County late Friday night.

The inmate crews work side by side with firefighters and do everything from battling blazes to helping build containment lines, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.

The injured firefighters were released early Saturday, just hours after being airlifted to the burn centre at the University of California, Davis, for treatment, Tolmachoff said. No details were immediately available on how they were injured.

"They are in good spirits," Tolmachoff said. "Although their injuries were minor, we still take them very seriously."

An evacuation order was issued late Friday for the fire that now threatens nearly 60 structures across six communities, Tolmachoff said. The blaze, which was started by lightning on Wednesday, has charred more than 11 square miles (28.5 square kilometres) in steep and rugged terrain but is partially contained, officials said.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters and 15 helicopters battled the fire in the Wilderness Lodge Area near Laytonville, Capt. Carlos Guerrero said Saturday.

Tolmachoff said crews faced dry, breezy conditions in anticipation of more lightning strikes Sunday.

"That could create a whole new set of problems," she said.

Elsewhere in the West:

— In Oregon, crews gained more control over a wildfire in the wind-swept Columbia River Gorge, allowing the evacuation order for 740 threatened residences to be lifted, the state Department of Forestry said Saturday.

Officials told residents to remain on alert because firefighters were concerned about unburned fuel near the fire, which has charred about 5 square miles (13 square kilometres) since it started Tuesday.

— In Idaho, crews reached partial containment of the state's largest wildfire, which has burned about 92 square miles (238 square kilometres) on the Idaho side of the Snake River across from Oregon and Washington state.

Three firefighters there have been injured: One received a gash on his leg from a chain saw and required stiches, another suffered heat-related problems, and a third had a scratched cornea.


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