Crews work to corral destructive wildfires lighting up the arid West and prompting evacuations

The Associated Press
August 2, 2014 06:36 PM

Plumes of smoke rise from the Oregon Gulch Fire burning south of Highway 66 in the area of the Soda Mountain Wilderness in Oregon. Officials said the fire was started by lightning on Thursday. (AP Photo/Medford Mail Tribune, Jamie Lusch)

ALTURAS, Calif. - Thousands of federal, state and local firefighters on Saturday were feverishly attacking at least six major wildfires in central and far northern California that prompted evacuations, while blazes in the Pacific Northwest destroyed a handful of homes.

A freshly sparked wildfire in Washington state burned down six to eight homes. Dramatic scenes played out overnight as residents tried to keep the flames at bay, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.

"Some great saves were made. Unfortunately, not all the homes were saved," he said.

The scope and intensity of the California blazes, three of them sparked by dry lightning as the state copes with a severe drought, was comparable to the fire activity the state doesn't usually see until September, California Department of Forestry and Fire protection Dennis Mathisen said.

The fires were burning as far south as the Sierra National Forest, about 70 miles from where another blaze sparked evacuations in and around Yosemite National Park earlier in the week, and as far north as the state border, where a blaze that began in southern Oregon had consumed 5.5 square miles and threatened about two dozen homes in California's Siskiyou County.

"When we pop one or two fires at a time, that's one thing, but when you get dry lightning strikes that pop up all over the place, that's when things become a challenge," Mathisen said.

One of the most dangerous California blazes was burning in Modoc County near the community of Day, where about 150 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order.

Just across the border in Oregon, a lightning-sparked fire destroyed three homes and threatened 270 structures. Residents near the flames were being asked to prepare to evacuate. Hot, dry weather is in the forecast as crews work to corral the 33-square-mile blaze.

Thirty fires were reported in Oregon over 24 hours, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said Saturday.


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