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Washington residents worry and wait as wildfire burns

Posted: August 16, 2012 5:28 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2012 5:28 p.m.


YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Some residents forced to flee a large central Washington fire were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, while firefighters in rural Idaho protected two threatened towns and thousands of crew members worked wildfires across California.

The Taylor Bridge Fire about 75 miles east of Seattle has burned across an estimated 22,000 acres, roughly 35 square miles, of diverse terrain, ranging from dry grasses to sagebrush and thick timber.

The fire was 25 percent contained. Fire commanders said one firefighter was recovering at home for a few days after suffering minor facial burns Wednesday.

The fire started Monday at a bridge construction site. Officials have said at least 70 homes have burned. About 840 firefighters have been assigned to the fire.

Evacuation levels at the fire's southeast corner were lowered Thursday afternoon, allowing some residents to return home. But exactly how many people were allowed back in was unclear, and the area affected by the new advisory comprises just a small part of the burned area.

Laurie Plut said she doesn't feel out of danger yet. The fire has been right at the timber line for two days, just beyond the wood cabin she and her husband have been building over the past 12 years in a collection of 40 lots, all but five of them vacation cabins.

"We're still worried. It's extremely frustrating, but the firefighters have been working hard," she said by telephone. "And we have to love them."

In Idaho, crews fighting 12 big fires hoped to take advantage of a brief break from extreme heat and strong winds to protect threatened homes and build lines around fire perimeters.

The advance of the Trinity Ridge Fire toward the small communities of Pine and Featherville stalled Wednesday, giving residents more time to protect their homes and cabins and prepare for a possible evacuation. The blaze started two weeks ago in the Boise National Forest and has scorched more than 108 square miles.

"Yesterday was more of a defensive mode for fire crews with the focus on protecting structures," said Dave Olson, spokesman for the Boise National Forest. "Today, there will be more opportunities to be more aggressive."

In eastern Idaho, growth of the Mustang Complex Fire slowed after days of rapid growth as flames quickly burned stands of timber killed by bark beetle infestation. The fires there have now burned more than 114 square miles and are moving northeast to within three miles of the Montana border.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter issued a disaster declaration Wednesday because of fire damage. The order clears the way for the Idaho National Guard to get involved in firefighting activities.

Officials said both fires are likely to continue burning until the fall before rain, snow or cooler temperatures move in to shut things down.

In California, firefighters across the state were monitoring whether potential thunderstorms and strong winds Thursday could make their work more difficult as they gain ground on several wildfires.

In Northern California, crews made progress along the northern edge of the Chips Fire in the Plumas National Forest. The blaze has threatened more than 900 homes and prompted voluntary evacuations. It has burned 67 square miles and was about 20 percent contained.

It's among the largest of nearly a dozen major wildfires burning across California that more than 9,000 firefighters are battling.

More than 100 homes remained under evacuation orders in the San Diego County communities of Ranchita and San Felipe, where two wildfires caused by lightning were creeping slowly through rugged brush lands.

The 8,000-acre Wilson fire was 65 percent contained, and the 7,000-acre Stewart fire was 50 percent surrounded.

In Nevada, higher humidity helped crews get a handle on a huge wildfire burning on both sides of the Nevada-Oregon state line. The lightning-sparked blaze has burned 687 square miles of sagebrush and was more than 70 percent contained.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.




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