Washington firefighters battle heat, high winds


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A state of emergency has been declared in 20 eastern Washington counties because of multiple wildfires and scorching hot temperatures coupled with high winds on Wednesday.

The declaration allows state officials to call up the Washington National Guard and the State Guard. It also directs state agencies to help local governments in responding to wildfires.

Washington state officials are worried about extreme fire conditions, including temperatures above 100 degrees and winds forecast at 30 mph in portions of the state east of the Cascade Range. They also worry about a lack of available firefighting resources in the Northwest.

Wildfires were also burning in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and California on Wednesday.

In Oregon, a Klamath County wildfire turned out to be more destructive than authorities initially believed.

After the fire burned in the rural Moccasin Hill subdivision near Sprague River earlier this week, officials reported that six houses were destroyed, along with 14 outbuildings. But fire managers toured the burn area Tuesday and spokeswoman Ashley Lertora said they found 17 residences and 16 outbuildings destroyed.

Oregon Fire officials said Wednesday that the Bailey Butte fire — part of the Waterman Complex — had burned more than 3.1 square miles west of Mitchell and was moving south into the Ochoco National Forest. Two other fires near Service Creek and Kimberly brought the Waterman Complex to more than 6 square miles, or 4,000 acres. The fires are in timber, grass and brush.

In Washington, fire officials said a handful of new wildfires, some started by lightning, are growing in central Washington.

"The National Weather Service posted red flag warnings and fire weather watches ... for much of Eastern Washington from Wednesday afternoon through Friday," said the emergency declaration, which Lt. Gov. Brad Owen signed late Tuesday.

The state's largest wildfire, the Mills Canyon blaze near the town of Entiat, is now 40 percent contained and holding steady at about 35 square miles. About 1,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.

State fire assistance has been ordered for the Stokes Road fire, burning in the Methow Valley. Spokesman Jacob McCann says that fire has grown to 600 acres with zero containment. Residents of seven homes have been told to leave.

The Washington National Guard sent two helicopters and 14 personnel to help battle the blaze.

"Our guardsmen are highly trained for these types of emergencies," said Major General Bret Daugherty, the state's adjutant general. "We stand ready to provide additional assistance if needed."

Smaller fires are burning north of Leavenworth and on the northern edges of the Army's rugged Yakima Training Center.

In Idaho, a half dozen air tankers worked to contain a fast-spreading wildfire that has grown to 49 square miles in two days.

The lightning-caused Preacher Fire is burning through grass and brush southwest of Carey and is being fanned by erratic winds. No structures have been reported lost.

The Whiskey Complex of fires in the Boise National Forest has resulted in voluntary evacuations for residents of about 60 homes in the Garden Valley area.

In Nevada, fire crews have the upper hand on a lightning-sparked wildfire near Reno. But the forecast calls for thunderstorms that could bring new fire threats.

About 140 firefighters remained on the lines Wednesday at the blaze that has burned 400 acres of brush and grass on U.S. Forest Service land near U.S. Highway 395 at Bordertown, just northwest of Reno. No injuries have been reported and no structures are threatened.

The fire was estimated to be 15 percent contained Wednesday afternoon with help from four air tankers and three helicopters.

In rural Northern California, cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters battling the Bully Fire, which has burned through more than 13 square miles. The fire, which authorities blame on marijuana-growing activity, was 35 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Eight homes have been destroyed since Friday and 55 homes around one community are threatened.