Montana declares state of emergency as U.S. Northwest battles blazes

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2015 3:38 AM

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Montana declared a state of emergency on Sunday to battle more than a dozen wildfires as blazes, fueled by drought and winds, also raged in Oregon, Idaho and the California wine region north of San Francisco.

Wildfires have destroyed 50 homes in north central Idaho while a fire in north-central Washington nearly doubled in size, almost encircling the town of Chelan and forcing the evacuation of some 1,500.

The Reach fire, sparked on Friday by lightning strikes and high winds, had doubled to 55,000 acres (22,250 hectares) by Sunday, fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said.

He said the fire also had started other smaller blazes further north.

Patterson said better weather was helping to fight the blaze - the temperature was down 10 degrees Fahrenheit from the upper 90s (mid 30s Celsius) on Friday and winds were low. Power in Chelan has been restored.

Patterson said there were about 727 firefighters tackling the blaze and the National Guard would be adding more troops on Sunday night or Monday. A Blackhawk helicopter was dropping water on the fire.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency, deploying the state's National Guard to combat more than a dozen wildfires that have threatened homes and prompted authorities to advise residents to be prepared to flee should conditions worsen.

In Idaho, the fast-moving Clearwater Complex fire was 15-percent contained early on Sunday after burning 50 houses and 75 outbuildings on the outskirts of the community of Kamiah.

Dozens of people in neighborhoods outlying the tiny logging town were told last week to flee in the face of the blazes, among more than 100 burning across the northern, southwestern and east-central parts of the state and in neighboring Oregon and Washington, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

More than 770 fire personnel have been assigned to fight the blazes that make up the Clearwater Complex, which has scorched almost 53,000 acres (21,500 hectares) of dense spruce forests criss-crossed by river valleys containing rural communities, Idaho fire managers said in a statement.

One of the fires in the complex was blamed last week for destroying a house and triggering the evacuation of several homes near Wieppe, the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office .

On Sunday, residents of Greer, Idaho, were told they might have to evacuate, the sheriff's office said on its website. It was not clear how many people would be affected.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Editing by Chris Michaud and Sandra Maler)