Fire crews react as thunder, lightning move across Northwest

Jeff Barnard / The Associated Press
August 11, 2014 10:21 PM

A firefighter retrieves a gasoline container used to fuel water pumps protecting the structures at Billy Creek Ranch along the Snake River as they light backfires at the site 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)

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Firefighters across the Northwest reacted Monday as triple-digit heat and lightning made their job even more difficult in an area where two dozen large wildfires were already burning.

Roughly 1,500 lightning strikes started nearly 20 new wildfires by Monday evening in central Oregon, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said. Those fires remained small and were being managed by local fire crews, the centre said.

Thunderstorms across Oregon, Washington and Idaho are expected through Tuesday night. On Monday, temperatures hit 107 degrees in the Columbia River Gorge at The Dalles, Oregon. Highs of 103 were reported in Warm Springs, Oregon, with 102 at Kelso in southwest Washington. In Eastern Washington, Davenport, west of Spokane, registered 104 degrees.

Thunderstorms began to make their way through central and northeast Oregon and into southeast Washington, the National Weather Service said. Lightning was also reported in the Washington Cascades.

With hot dry weather raising fire danger to a new high, the Washington Department of Natural Resources banned all outdoor burning on state-protected lands, including campfires and charcoal in campgrounds.

Several smaller wildfires were reported burning in Western Washington.

Still, fire officials said progress was being made in most of the wildfires that have been burning across the Northwest for the past month.

In northeastern Washington, more firefighters have arrived at the Devil's Elbow Fire Complex on the Colville Indian Reservation, fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said. Crews worked Monday to extend containment lines in advance of the impending thunderstorms. A new fire start in the area was stopped at 30 acres, she said. In all, that fire complex has burned across more than 30 square miles and is just 4 per cent contained. Residents of more than 30 homes have been told to leave.

The Carlton Complex in north-central Washington state, which burned across more than 400 square miles and destroyed more than 300 homes since it was ignited by lightning nearly a month ago, was 95 per cent contained.

In Oregon, the Rowena fire, which burned one house and nearly 6 square miles of scrub oak and brush on the steep, windy slopes of the Columbia River Gorge, was 68 per cent contained. Evacuation notices were lifted for that fire and U.S Highway 30 in the area has reopened.

In Idaho, the Big Cougar fire was 70 per cent contained after burning more than 100 square miles in remote country along the Snake River.

In some areas, smoke, not flames, created problems. In Oregon, the air quality index was unhealthy in Grants Pass in the southwestern corner of the state, and in Enterprise in the northeastern corner. In Washington, Pullman and Leavenworth reported unhealthy conditions. And in Idaho, state air quality authorities reported concerns for the Clearwater Basin from local fires, and the Panhandle from smoke blowing in from elsewhere.


AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this story from Boise, Idaho.

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