Western wildfires: Flames fly through 3 hot, dry states

AP News
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Posted: Jun 19, 2015 3:33 PM
Western wildfires: Flames fly through 3 hot, dry states

Wildfires are charring parched parts of the West. Here's a look at the latest hotspots and what crews are doing to control them.

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ALASKA

Crews have wrangled two large wildfires north and south of Anchorage as dozens of blazes burn about 160 square miles in Alaska.

One fire forced the evacuation of campsites on the Kenai Peninsula and destroyed at least eight structures since Monday.

More than 320 firefighters battled the nearly 12-square-mile blaze in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as temperatures heated up. Some people began returning Thursday, when they were seen washing fire retardant off their homes.

The other major fire is in the state's dog-mushing territory. It has burned about 12 square miles and destroyed 26 homes. Fire managers say residents who lost homes can begin returning to their properties Friday. A voluntary evacuation order remains in place.

Altogether, 49 active fires are burning. Of those, crews are fighting 11 and monitoring the others.

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ARIZONA

Firefighters are controlling a smoky brush fire near a rural Arizona community with help from an unusual source — a railroad.

Arizona State Forestry spokesman Mike Reichling said Friday that it is the first time he has seen a train at a wildfire specifically to put out the flames.

Two Copper Basin Railway converted rail cars equipped with water cannons have been dousing hotspots along the Gila River near Kearny, about 85 miles southeast of Phoenix, amid a heat wave in Arizona.

Each tank car holds up to 15,000 gallons of water and can squirt it as far as 250 feet from the track, railway President Jake Jacobson said.

The blaze has torn through nearly 2 square miles of salt cedar trees since Wednesday and is partially contained. Reichling says a handful of people who live close to the riverbed cannot yet return to their homes.

About 230 firefighters have kept it burning away from the town of 2,000 residents, officials said.

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CALIFORNIA

Several wildfires are churning through the hot, dry state, with the largest in the San Bernardino National Forest growing as it incinerated dense, old-growth wilderness.

A fleet of helicopters dropped water Friday in the San Bernardino Mountains, the towering range between inland cities east of Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert.

The 17-square-mile blaze threatened about 150 structures, including old cabins and outbuildings, but none was lost, said Lyn Sieliet, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

About 1,200 firefighters battled the blaze that broke out for unknown reasons Wednesday near one of many camps in the area. It forced several hundred people to leave the camps and some vacation homes.

Crews face mountain temperatures ranging from 90 to 100 degrees and winds that carried smoke east into the desert and Coachella Valley.

Elsewhere:

— A 60-acre fire was partially contained after burning three residences in Thermal, 135 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

— Over 500 acres have been scorched in the Sierra National Forest, south of Yosemite National Park, and firefighters warned the blaze fed by heavy, dry brush could double in size in the next few days. Three air tankers were dousing the flames started by a vehicle, according to government reports.

— A 500-acre blaze sparked by a vehicle fire burned near the central California community of Cedar Valley.

— Firefighters worked to snuff out patches of fire and embers in Northern California after more than 2 square miles burned in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, east of Eureka.