Wildfires rage throughout West

Evacuations in California; fires also in MT, ID

BY P.J. HELLER | BOISE, Idaho | August 19, 2007

East Zone Complex wilfire rages northeast of McCall.

A helicopter dumps water on the Jocko Lakes wildfire.
Credit: Andrea Voohre

The Zaca wildfire burning in California continued to grow Sunday, prompting the "precautionary evacuation" of 30 rural homes as the fire spread from Santa Barbara County into Ventura County. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Ventura County.

The fire has burned nearly 200,000 acres since it started July 4. The blaze was creeping toward Highway 33 and officials closed the road early Sunday.

Nearly three dozen wildfires were also burning in Montana and Idaho, fueled by tinder-dry conditions and windy weather. The fires were among 57 large active fires reported from Hawaii to Florida.

Even as the Zaca wildfire continued to grow now covering almost 312 square miles - containment remained at 75 percent Sunday night. More than 3,000 firefighters were battling the stubborn blaze.

In addition to the latest precautionary evacuation order, evacuation warnings - advising residents to be prepared to leave if necessary - remained in place for some mountain areas. Public access to the Los Padres National Forest where the fire was burning remained limited.

Smoke and ash from the fire continued to fill the air in Santa Barbara and other coastal communities, prompting health officials to issue a health advisory and recommending that residents to try to minimize outdoor activities.

The cost to battle the fire has grown to more than $83 million. Nationwide, the U.S. Forest Service has spent $828 million fighting wildfires nationwide since Oct. 1, according to news reports.

In Montana, three mobile homes were destroyed by the Black Cat fire burning near Frenchtown in the far western part of the state. Evacuation orders that forced about 300 people from their homes have been lifted. The fire, which started Tuesday and which spread rapidly through dense timber and was pushed by strong winds, has burned more than 4,300 acres.

Most residents in the Seeley Lake resort area also were able to return home after being threatened by the Jocko Lakes fire, which has grown to more than 27,000 acres. The fire, about 26 miles northeast of Missoula, was 19 percent contained. A handful of evacuation orders were in place for small areas.

Elsewhere in Montana, evacuations were reported in place for the Sawmill Complex of three fires burning southeast of Missoula which have charred nearly 42,000 acres. The fire was 15 percent contained. Other fires which have prompted evacuations included the WH Complex blaze, which has burned more than 25,000 acres and was 5 percent contained south of Livingston, the nearly 90,000-acre Chippy Creek fire southwest of Kalispell that was at 30 percent containment and the Fool Creek blaze northwest of Choteau which has scorched almost 50,000 acres. There was no containment on that fire.

In Idaho, the East Zone Complex of three fires northeast of McCall had nearly doubled in size since the start of the week, ballooning to 176,470 acres. The communities of Secesh and Warren were under voluntary evacuations. The fire, being battled by almost 600 firefighters, was 10 percent contained.

The Cascade Complex of three fires, with firefighters facing what they described as a weekend of "critical fire weather," more than doubled in size this week. The fire stood at nearly 140,000 acres and dropped to 15 percent containment. It was burning about three miles northeast of Cascade.

In Wyoming, firefighters braced for windy conditions this weekend as they attempted to reign in the Columbine fire in Yellowstone National Park. The fire, which has burned 18,500 acres, has twice forced the closure of the eastern entrance to the park from Cody but it was reopened again Friday morning. The fire was started by lightning Aug. 9 and has threatened some 100 structures, including a hunting lodge outside the park built more than 100 years ago by Buffalo Bill Cody.

In Washington, a 67,000-acre wildfire threatened the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland on Thursday before being contained on the site. The emergency operations center there was activated from 4:30 p.m. Thursday until almost 1 p.m. Friday.

The U.S. Energy Department said none of the nuclear facilities or storage areas was impacted by the fire. It also reported that more than 40 air samples were taken and none showed any radioactivity above normal background levels.

On the Big Island of Hawaii, which this week faced Hurricane Flossie, as well as three earthquakes, including one a magnitude 5.4, a wildfire near Waimea forced a brief evacuation of about 100 residents on Thursday. They were allowed to return home a short time later. The fire burned more than 100 acres and was almost fully contained.


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