In the worst fire season in 70 years, more than 64,000 fires had consumed 4 million acres by Aug. 8, according to ABC's Nightline.
'Tinder dry' across Western front
Western Fires Consume Nearly 1 Million Acres
MSNBC -- Aug. 6,2000 -- The Western wildfires were forcing more evacuations Monday, particularly in parts of Montana and Utah, as fire officials warned crews not to expect any major improvement in conditions. "The conditions here are just tinder dry," Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck told NBC's "Today" show.
THE MONDAY report by federal fire coordinators was blunt: "No major changes in the weather pattern are forecast in the near future," it warns. "All 11 western states, plus Oklahoma and Texas, are reporting very high to extreme fire danger indices."
Thunderstorms bearing lightning but little or no rain were forecast across the West, particularly in southwest Wyoming and southern Oregon.
Dombeck described firefighters as being "at the mercy of Mother Nature" and predicted a "tough situation" for several more weeks.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported more evacuations were in the works, particularly in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest, where all 700 residents of the town of Pinesdale have been told to leave. Some 850 homes and buildings are threatened in the area. The fire is just three miles from Hamilton, a town of 5,000 residents. In Utah, the Rush Valley area near Salt Lake is also being evacuated.
On Sunday, firefighters made progress on a few fronts, but faced an even bigger battlefield as the overall area in flames jumped to nearly 1 million acres. While Idaho and Montana had the largest fires, a new blaze at the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was described as one of the most dangerous ever.
The Mesa Verde fire doubled in size over the weekend to 4,400 acres and is burning about a mile from the park's headquarters, museum and research center. The park is famous for the cliff dwellings and numerous mesa top villages built by the Pueblo Indians.
Park Superintendent Larry Weisel told NBC on Sunday that the danger to the structures is not so much the fires, but the inevitable erosion that will follow when it finally rains, sending water rushing along the walls of the dwellings, and eating them away.
The park had reopened Friday after a fire last month that burned 23,000 acres, but it was shut again the same day when the new fire spread quickly.
Wiese said fire crews had told him the new fire was "one of the 10 most dangerous" in the history of firefighting because of the immense amount of fuel available to feed the blaze. "There has not been a heavy fire for a lot of this forest for about 400 to 500 years," he said. The intense fire from all that fuel "kicks the fire in 360 degrees," he added, making it volatile for firefighters.
200,000 MORE ACRES
Across the West Sunday, 64 major fires were burning 942,000 acres, 200,000 more than Saturday. Idaho had 12 fires burning 350,000 acres, Montana, had 16 fires scorching 157,000 acres.
In southwest Montana, much of the Bitterroot Valley was on fire. From his house on a mountain ridge near a 3,600-acre wildfire, Bill Holzer could see the path of destruction. "When it clears and you have some visibility, you can see the mountains around Blodgett Creek just devastated," Holzer said Sunday. "There is nothing green left. The trees are just black sticks.
"Blodgett Canyon was one of the prettiest places in the area with a beautiful campground. Now our million-dollar view is gone."
Some 300 residents ordered to evacuate the area Wednesday were allowed to check their property during the day on Sunday. At the same time, another 300 people in the Pinesdale area, about 10 miles north of Hamilton, were told they might have to leave.
SMOKE, FIRE AND DRY LIGHTNING
Haze from the fires has been hanging over cities and towns in Idaho and Montana for days, with some areas urging residents to stay indoors.
In Nevada, a fire 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas threatened the town of Trout Canyon and smoke spread through the Las Vegas valley. And a fire near Fernley, about 30 miles east of Reno, exploded from 900 acres to more than 5,000 Sunday. "Yesterday we were starting to gain the upper hand," said Dave Murphy of the Bureau of Land Management. "Then the winds kicked up, blew it over a road and it took off."
Lynn Pisano-Pedigo, a spokeswoman at the National Interagency Fire Center, wasn't optimistic that conditions would improve. "The weather system hasn't changed significantly in the last couple of weeks," she said. "You do have the summer thunderstorms. But unfortunately, there isn't a lot of moisture connected with these. You get a lot of dry lightning."
Northern California and Oregon were expected to see more of those dry thunderstorms. Montana was
forecast to get gusty winds, which could hamper firefighting. And across the West, temperatures were still above normal for many areas.
President Bill Clinton will tour the area Tuesday and speak with some of the more than 1,500 military troops who have been sent in to help exhausted civilian fire crews, the White House announced Saturday.
Clinton will visit Idaho, but it's not known whether he will announce new grants or additional assistance from Washington.
Five hundred Marines joined firefighters in Idaho and a second battalion of Marines was en route to Idaho over the weekend to be on the lines by Tuesday. The Forest Service also announced Friday that 200 Canadian firefighters and 500 additional U.S. Army troops were joining the effort.
Blazes across the United States, mostly in the West, have scorched 4 million acres. U.S. Assistant Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca has called it the worst fire season in 50 years.
WAITING FOR SNOW
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said it could be fall before some of the blazes are controlled.
"The conditions will only worsen. We're still in for a hot summer," Kempthorne said late Friday after touring Idaho, where the nation's largest fire has blackened 102,000 acres. "These fires, they will not extinguish them — not until October or November will snow knock them out." Baca cited the West's population boom as making it easier for Mother Nature to do significant damage.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that an estimated $300 million has been spent to combat the fires. Daily costs run from $8 million to about $15 million to support 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada. Some are working 36-hour shifts — or longer.
"This could shape up to be the worst fire season for Idaho in 65 years of records kept," Kempthorne said.
Already this year, the number of fires and property destroyed is almost double the average of the previous 10 years. The hot, dry summer — fueled by the cyclical La Niña weather pattern — is expected to last through September, and that means millions more acres could go up in flames.
Baca cited the West's population boom as making it easier for Mother Nature to do significant damage.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that an estimated $300 million has been spent to combat the fires. Daily costs run from $8 million to about $15 million to support 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada. Some are working 36-hour shifts — or longer.
Wildfires Blazing Across Nine Western States
By Cat Lazaroff
BOISE, Idaho, August 3, 2000 (ENS) - At least 27 fires are now burning almost half a million acres in nine Western states as the United States faces what experts are calling the worst wildfire season in 30 years.
With firefighting teams, equipment and budgets stretched to their limits, several states have called on the military for help, and the U.S. is considering seeking international help to control the fires.
"Firefighting resources are stretched thin," said Undersecretary of Agriculture James Lyons on Wednesday. "We may be requesting resources from other countries."
The federal government is now spending $15 million a day to support more than 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada. Australia and Mexico have been contacted about potentially providing additional firefighters.
"The situation is not improving as we just keep falling further behind with fewer fires contained each day, and hundreds of new starts stretching resources further," said a spokesperson for the National Interagency Coordination Center.
Total fire suppression costs submitted so far for only half of the ongoing wildland fires is running more than $50 million. If fires continue at their current high rate, suppression costs could approach or exceed one billion dollars for the year.
More than 1,000 soldiers and Marines are being added to the Department of Defense mission to augment federal and local firefighters and law enforcement officials in several western states. This brings the total of active duty military and National Guard soldiers and airmen fighting the fires to more than 1,300.
Four firefighters sustained second degree burns Wednesday while fighting a fire on the Pachenga Indian Reservation and Cleveland National Forest in California. Thunderstorm activity caused intense winds, blowing flames across a fire engine from the California Department of Forestry.
Almost 1,800 people are fighting the 5,722 acre fire, which is threatening several homes and other buildings.
Work crews made up of inmates from California prisons are helping to build fire lines and clear brush around the fire.
Also in California, a 72,228 acre fire continues to burn in Sequoia National Forest. The fire is about 40 percent contained, with 1,704 people battling to save centuries old giant sequoia trees. Seven homes in the Pine Creek area have been charred by the blaze.
The largest region of fire now covers 192,200 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in eastern Idaho. The complex includes 11 separate blazes, which are now about 60 percent contained. A total of 637 people are assigned to these fires. Elsewhere in Idaho, 95,000 acres of the Salmon-Challis National Forest are ablaze northwest of Salmon, Idaho. As of this morning, 670 people were fighting the blaze, known as the Clear Creek fire, and the fire was about 30 percent contained.
In Utah, the 57,054 Oldroyd Complex is burning on the Fishlake National Forest near Richfield. The complex includes five fires that are threatening the towns of Oak City, Mammoth, Silver Springs and Eureka. More than 700 people have managed to contain about 30 percent of the blaze. The town of Eureka is also threatened by the 2,500 acre Bismark fire on BLM land, which is being fought by just 68 people.
Two new fires started Wednesday in Montana, and have already burned almost 1,000 acres. At least 300 people have been forced to evacuate to escape more than a dozen fires burning across the state.
The 60,600 acre Fort Howes Complex is burning on BLM property south of Ashland, Montana. Just 333 people are battling the fire, which is believed to be completely contained. But several other fires are still threatening homes and camping areas. In the Bitterroot National Forest, seven miles south of Darby, Montana, 172 people are fighting a 1,000 acre fire complex that has forced evacuations in several small towns.
In Nevada, the 2,475 acre Arrowcreek fire is burning on state forest lands southwest of Reno, threatening homes and other buildings. At least a dozen other fires, including a 66,487 acre blaze on BLM lands near Wells, are continuing to char the state.
More than 20,000 acres have been burned on BLM lands in Wyoming in several separate fires, some of which are threatening homes and other structures. Residences and recreation sites have been evacuated from the Granite Creek Road area in Bridger-Teton National Forest.
A 1,000 acre fire in Arizona is burning in Tonto National Forest, six miles south of Globe. Numerous summer homes, a fire lookout, recreation sites, and a major communication site are threatened. Just 15 percent of the work has been completed to contain this fire by the 347 people assigned to the blaze. The U.S. Forest Service has imposed campfire and smoking restrictions in all of the state’s National Forests.
A 2,125 acre fire in remote BLM wilderness lands in New Mexico is being allowed to burn itself out. In Washington state, a small, 160 acre fire is burning in inaccessible terrain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. The fire is being monitored by helicopter and a field observer.
"Firefighter safety is always our number one priority," said Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, visiting the National Interagency Fire Center as part of a fact-finding tour of western fires. "There is not a timber stand, grassland or structure that is worth the life of a firefighter or a member of the public."
The weather is making firefighters’ jobs extremely difficult across the West. Dry lightning, low humidity and windy conditions helped spark 27 new fires on Wednesday. The existing weather pattern is expected to continue, and may move into areas of southeast Oregon and southern Idaho, which have only experienced light fire activity to date.
Parched U.S. Faces Worst Year for Fires Since Mid-80's
The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2000
DENVER, Aug. 2 -- Prolonged hot and dry weather this summer, especially in the West, has made this the worst year since the mid-1980's for wildfires around the country. And with no major meteorological changes in sight, many more fires are expected before temperatures drop in the fall.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, has recorded 61,400 fires this year, which have burned nearly 3.6 million acres, the vast majority in Western states. The fires include 17 new wildfires reported overnight, bringing to 47 the number of large wildfires now burning on more than 707,200 acres in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
"This year has been much worse than average," said Dennis Pendleton, the center's director, judging the severity by the number of acres burned.
"With the number of acreage burned, the number of fires and the drought, it's the worst we've had in 15 years and it could become one of the worst years we've ever had."
Complicating matters for firefighters is a wildfire season made unusually long by the unchanging weather patterns. The season typically ends in June in many Southern states and in July through the Southwest, when heavy rains materialize. But persistently dry weather has left many forest regions brittle and easily set ablaze by a lightning strike or a discarded cigarette, which is how many fires are started.
In its daily assessment of conditions around the country, the fire center said today that 11 states in the West were reporting "very high to extreme fire danger indices," with hot and dry weather expected to continue.
The cumulative effect of an ever-growing number of fires has placed such a high demand on firefighting personnel and equipment this summer that two military battalions of 500 each have been called to assist, a normal procedure when wildfires have overwhelmed local and state resources and firefighters have tired.
An Army battalion from Fort Hood, Tex., arrived in Boise on Tuesday to begin field training today for action later this week, fighting the Burgdorf Junction fires in central Idaho. A Marine battalion from Camp Pendleton in Southern California is scheduled to arrive for training on Saturday for deployment to the Clear Creek fires in northern Idaho.
"The demand has been unusually high," Mr. Pendleton said of the need for added firefighters and equipment. "The same people have been chasing a good deal of the fires around the country since early April. Just in California, we've problems since January."
The fire center measures the severity of wildfires in a variety of ways: by the number of fires, by the number of acres burned and by how many military battalions have been summoned to help.
Over the last 50 years, 1981 was the worst for the number of fires, with 249,370; 1950 was the worst for number of acres burned, with 17.5 million; and wildfires in 1988 demanded the largest number of battalions, 8.
Many times, wildfires cause deaths, and by that measure this year has been relatively safe. Only one death has been attributed to firefighting efforts, that of a smoke-jumper from Alaska whose parachute failed to open while he was training.
Records kept by the fire center indicate that the worst years for deaths were 1871, when wildfires in Wisconsin and Michigan caused the deaths of 1,500 people, and 1894, when wildfires in Minnesota killed 418.
Fewer deaths have been recorded in recent years, largely because of the ability to warn people far in advance of spreading fires so they can evacuate the area and because of improved firefighting equipment.
Another measure is the cost of fire suppression, although it is difficult to put a final price on overall damage caused by wildfires in a given year because the accounting would take into consideration costs to the federal government, as well as state and local agencies and individuals through property damage.
Among the five federal land agencies over the six years through 1999, the largest costs, by far, have been borne by the Forest Service, $2.1 billion, according to figures compiled by the fire center. The overall federal cost for the six years was $2.9 billion.
While the fires that burned in Los Alamos, N.M., in May received widespread national attention for the danger they posed to the national laboratories, other fires have caused equally troublesome problems for local residents.
Among those now burning, fires south of Hamilton, Mont., have closed a state highway and forced evacuations in four towns. Abandoned mineshafts around fires burning 12 miles north of Helena, Mont., are hampering firefighting efforts there. Wildfires east of Phoenix are threatening summer homes, recreation areas and endangered species habitats. Residents of several Utah towns southwest of Provo have been warned that spreading fires might come their way.
Among the most challenging wildfires still burning out of control are those spreading across 5,100 acres of Cleveland National Forest, northeast of San Diego, where officials with the Forest Service say the rugged and inaccessible terrain, combined with limited resources, could leave the fire burning another week or more.
Even with seven helicopters assisting 1,000 firefighters, the wildfires today were only 15 percent contained.
"We're about a month early, how dry it is," said Elliott Graham, a Forest Service spokesman at the site. "This one is different; a lot of it is in a wilderness area."
Troops sent in to help battle forest fires in West
Reuters News Service, Aug. 2, 2000
LOS ANGELES - Troops were sent in to help battle a forest blaze in Idaho yesterday while in California's Sequoia National Forest, firefighters struggled to contain a 67,000-acre (27,110-hectare) blaze as the West suffered its worst fire season since 1988.
Record heat, dry lightning and low humidity have set more than three dozen large fires currently burning in the West with little relief promised from the weather in the next few days.
"The West is just in a terrible time," said Michelle Barrett, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise, Idaho. "Dry lightning doesn't bode well for us. You couldn't write a more dangerous situation than the one we have now.
"There were two million acres (809,400 hectares) burned in 1988. We're already at 3.5 million acres (1.4 million hectares) and we're just coming into fire season in most of the West," Barrett said.
Some 500 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas were due to arrive in Boise, Idaho, to help tackle a 15,500-acre (6,273-hectare) fire in the Payette National Forest, the army said.
Another battalion from Camp Pendleton, Calif., has started fire training and is expected in Idaho next week where five large fires covering more than 285,000 acres (115,300 hectares) are burning across the state.
In central California, hundreds of pinion pine, juniper and sage trees, many 200 to 300 years old, have been destroyed in a 10-day old blaze in the Sequoia National Forest which has also charred seven homes on the Pine Creek area.
But so far there has been no threat to the forest's giant sequoia trees some 30 miles (48 km) from the blaze, which are up to 2,000 years old.
Yesterday forest officials said the Sequoia blaze was 35 percent contained and said the situation was improved after brief overnight rain.
"We finally got a little bit of a break with 0.08 hundredths of an inch of rain that raised the humidity. The outlook is starting to be better," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tomas Patlan. The blaze is not expected to be fully contained until next week.
Large wildland fires are also burning in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
Fire in Sequoia Forest Is One of 45 Across West
The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2000
LOS ANGELES, July 31 -- More than 1,500 firefighters and a fleet of helicopters and tankers continued to battle a 63,270-acre wildfire in the Sierra Nevada today, with the blaze still only about 15 percent contained and dangerous dry lightning forecast.
The fire, which destroyed eight homes in a tiny mountain town over the weekend, started on July 22, of a cause that is unknown, and has burned through the Sequoia National Forest about 120 miles north of here. It has cost about $4.3 million so far and is just one of about 45 fires burning over nearly 500,000 acres in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Montana.
Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said hot, dry weather, lightning without rain and a spate of new fires were taxing firefighting capacity throughout the region. Training began today for the Army's Third Battalion, 16th Field Artillery, which is being called in from Fort Hood, Tex., to help firefighters in Idaho.
"This is the worst fire season we've had since 1988," said Michelle Barrett, a spokeswoman at the center, noting the hot, dry conditions throughout the region.
"If we had to write a formula for disaster, this is it. You could not write a better formula for having dangerous fires."
(CNN reported on July 31 that the Western fires had consumed an area equal in size to the state of Connecticut.)
Today alone, eight new fires were reported scattered throughout the region, and Ms. Barrett said overworked and exhausted firefighters would soon have to be rotated off duty for rest. She said officials would also have to be selective about where they put their stretched resources, trying to control fires of less than 10 acres as quickly as possible in what is known as "initial attack" to keep them from spreading, and, eventually, letting some isolated areas burn.
"As much as we worry about the fires, there's not a blade of grass or a tree out there that's important as the lives of our firefighters," Ms. Barrett said.
Except for a training accident in Alaska, there have been no firefighter fatalities in forest fires this year.
The fire in the Sequoia forest, a habitat for California spotted owls, is in an isolated area west of California Route 395. Eleven firefighters there have suffered injuries, all minor. Nine water-spraying helicopters and eight fixed-wing aircraft dumping flame-retardant chemicals are being used to complement firefighters on the ground, said Doug Johnston, an engineer with the Fire Department of neighboring Kern County, who was one of those called to the scene.
"The estimate now is that it won't be fully controlled for about two weeks," Mr. Johnston said, speaking by telephone from a regional command center in the town of Kernville. "Our weather is going to change on us, with thunderstorms forecast. If we could get some precipitation, that would be good. But the history of this area is you just get lightning, with no rain."
On Saturday, the fire destroyed houses and trailers in the isolated hamlet of Pine Creek, part of an area known as Kennedy Meadows.
A few structures in the area remain at risk. But Mr. Johnston said that the entire population at the peak of summer was about 100 and that most residents, perhaps all, had already been evacuated.
Two smaller fires were also still burning in Southern and Central California today, one on the Pechanga Indian Reservation in the Cleveland National Forest, the other in the Los Padres National Forest on the Central Coast, which was expected to be contained by Tuesday.
Good news, meanwhile, was reported from Colorado, where a fire that had swept 22,950 acres at Mesa Verde National Park and threatened famed Indian ruins there was contained on Saturday. The park is to reopen this Friday.
West is wild with fire
Fire behaviorists and planners who have been expecting a big fire year for the last two or three years are getting more than they bargained for.
"Right now, we're actually facing conditions we normally face in mid-August, as far as weather and fuel," said Nancy Lull, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center.
Parched fuel such as needles, downed timber and other flammable vegetation has built up. Combined with hot, dry and, in some places drought, conditions, a few sparks or a lightning strike can quickly become a thousand-acre fire.
This fire season is being compared to the active season of '96, when costs of fighting the fires among five federal agencies totaled more than $679 million. The cost of fighting the West's most recent large fires has been estimated at $26.3 million.
Across the West, firefighting resources are being stretched so thin that the military has been asked to step in.
Army soldiers are getting a crash course in firefighting techniques at the national fire center in Idaho. One spokesperson estimates they should be ready to join fire lines next week.
Meanwhile, charred wildlands all over the West have become the symbol of the nation's worst fire season since 1996.
(ABC news reported that fires were raging in 11 Western states as well as Mississippi as July drew to a close.)
After 1,800 employees at a nuclear facility were evacuated Thursday, firefighters were able to surround the 30,000-acre blaze threatening the area Friday. The flames, which are being encouraged by triple-digit highs and fanned by winds, are pushing forward at the rate of about a mile a day.
The fire, just outside the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, was the third this year to threaten one of the nation's nuclear facilities.
The lab's Advanced Test Reactor was under repair and its operations weren't affected, according to laboratory spokesperson Stacey Francis.
The two earlier fires happened at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington. There were concerns about the release of radioactive material, but federal officials have said that was not a danger. Air samples did show an increased concentration of plutonium in public areas outside the Hanford reservation, however the measurements were not at harmful levels.
A new blaze ignited Saturday, 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The brush fire was reported about 1:30 pm at four acres and had spread to over 150 acres within an hour.
Evacuations were ordered as a fire blackened 37,500 acres of the Sequoia National Forest. The flames threatened a residential area on the forest's borders. More than 100 residents were forced to evacuate their homes roughly 120 miles north of Los Angeles.
Doug Johnson, a Kern County fire engineer, credited low humidity and blustery winds with doubling the size of the blaze in a 24-hour period. The fire was only about 10 % contained Friday.
"This fire has shown extreme behavior," Forest Service spokesman Tony Diffenbaugh said.
Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries in the fight.
In Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, a 40-mile fire line was keeping a 23,000-acre wildfire from spreading. Officials said the park's archaeological treasures were safe.
Firefighters worked feverishly Saturday to put out dozens of wildfires that already claimed about 35,000 acres across the state and were slowly creeping toward homes.
"Our prime concern is to protect the residences," said Dave Freeland, spokesman for an Incident Management Team from California that was brought in to help local firefighters.
Planes, equipped with infrared sensors, flew over the area overnight to detect hot spots. He said about 1,000 acres had burned by Saturday morning.
"This fire is going to grow," said Freeland on Saturday, noting the hot, dry and windy conditions. "We're going to hit it really hard today to try to burn it out."
In Washington, farmers took matters into their own hands by cutting fire trails with tractors in an attempt to protect crops from a 6,000-acre range fire in the Columbia River Gorge. Although the fire was 70% contained, it still posed a threat to 19 homes, wheat crops, and a Yakama Nation ceremonial site as of Saturday morning. Authorities said the origin of the fire was suspicious.
The blaze, along with another 9,500-acre fire, has been virtually neutralized.
Though the fires have been contained, two water-dropping helicopters remained on the scene to extinguish hot spots.
Saturday, Firefighters in Montana were closing in on a fire that has burned about 17,500 acres east of the state's capital of Helena. The blaze forced about 300 families from their homes.
In Arizona, wind encouraged a 3,500-acre fire on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to grow to 5,000 acres in only about three hours Friday. As of Saturday, it had become an 8,000-acre blaze.
A temporary camp for firefighters had to be moved because the fire was advancing unpredictably, said fire spokeswoman Chadeen Palmer. The flames reached heights of 100 feet.
The power was shut off Friday when the blaze moved too close to power lines. Residents were without power until Saturday.
Firefighters have headed back to fight the flames in hopes they'll have a handle on the blaze in the next several days.
A fire raged freely Saturday morning as federal officials warned that with triple-digit temperatures and gusty winds forecast, things are likely to worsen.
The blaze exploded to at least 54,000 acres as helpless firefighters watched the erratic movement of the flames fuled by weather. Conditions made it hazardous to be anywhere near the lines.
"The least spark can ignite the fuels out there today," State Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said, urging people to stay out of the back country.
"The moisture in fuel in the Great Basin and in southern Nevada is at all-time lows," Kevin Hull, the BLM's state fire management officer, said on Friday.
Some uninhabited structures have burned and the flames are edging closer to archaeological sites along the old California Emigrant Trail.
So far this year, fires have consumed roughly 280,000 acres in Nevada alone. Although that's only a fraction of last year's tally, officials say the 2000 fire season is still young and most of last year's havoc began with a rash of thunderstorms the first week of August.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wildfire rages through Calif. town
8 homes destroyed, more threatened as blaze spreads
The Boston Globe, Associated Press, 7/31/2000
RIDGECREST, Calif. - A fire raging in the rugged Sierra Nevada swept through a tiny community on the remote Kern Plateau, destroying eight homes as it swelled to more than 60,000 acres yesterday.
''The last folks in there were the firefighters and they headed out just in time to get out of the fire's way,'' said Kern County Fire Department spokesman Chuck Dickson.
The flames charred pine forest and brush as they spread from the Sequoia National Forest, gaining 10,000 acres overnight Saturday and threatening homes along the fire line, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles yesterday.
Firefighters estimate it will take nearly two weeks of digging to surround the blaze, and there's no telling how much it will grow in the meantime, said US Forest Service spokeswoman Geri Adams.
According to a Reuters report, there appeared to be no threat to the giant sequoia trees in the area, which are up to 2,000 years old, Artie Colson, a spokesman for the US Forest Service, said yesterday. Colson said the giant trees are located about 30 miles away from the blaze.
The weather forecast for the area was for hotter and drier conditions combined with afternoon thunderstorms, Adams said, adding, ''That wind won't help us either.''
The Sierra Nevada blaze was one of about 50 fires burning more than 488,000 acres across the nation yesterday, the National Fire Information Center reported. In the West, wildfires continued to burn in Montana, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico.
In the scattered California community of Kennedy Meadows, which includes the tiny Pine Creek village that burned, residents were moving horses and mobile home trailers to safety yesterday.
Ignoring an evacuation order, some of the popular tourist area's 43 residents gathered at the general store to discuss their plans. Leona Hansen said she kept the store open because it is the only place with telephones.
''We're waiting for them to say, `This is it. Get out of here.' And when they do, we'll be out of here in a flash. We're not going to be heroes,'' Hansen said.
About 1,350 firefighters, with the help of nine helicopters and four air tankers, were fighting the blaze, which has cost more than $3 million, Adams said. Eight firefighters have been injured since it began July 22.
''We still have an outstanding order [to bring in more firefighters], but with all the other fires we have in the US, we're still waiting,'' she said.
Fires also burned on the Pechanga Indian Reservation in the Cleveland National Forest to the south and in Los Padres National Forest, where three firefighters have been injured.
A man trying to spark the pilot light of his recreational vehicle's water heater with a burning piece of paper ignited the Los Padres fire a week ago about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco, said Forest Service spokesman Maeton Freel. He said the man could face criminal charges.
Farther east, a fire triggered by lightning on Wednesday had burned more than 62,000 acres by yesterday about 60 miles northeast of Elko, Nev.
In Montana, a cluster of six fires that had burned 44,000 acres and three Forest Service buildings in Custer National Forest was threatening 20 homes yesterday.
''We've had some really extreme nighttime fire weather,'' fire information officer Jack Conner said. Night humidity in the forest, normally 80 to 90 percent, has been topping out at 35 percent, he said.
In Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, the famous Anasazi ruins survived a 10-day fire that blackened more than 23,000 acres and uncovered more than a dozen new archeological sites.
The fire was contained yesterday, but damage to roads and utility lines is expected to keep the park closed for at least two more weeks.
This story ran on page A3 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.