The Latest: Crews fight fire near Montana highway

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 4:05 PM
The Latest: Crews fight fire near Montana highway

OKANOGAN, Wash. (AP) — The latest on wildfires in the West (all times local):

1 p.m.

Firefighters in Montana traveled by rail to the edge of a thick forest to build fuel breaks meant to slow or stop a wildfire that is creeping toward a major rail line and U.S. Highway 2 on Glacier National Park's southern boundary.

Officials said Monday the nearly 1-squre mile blaze has been spreading northeast toward the transportation corridor for days, forcing a two-day closure last week of a main east-west route for passengers and cargo. Firefighters had been limited to attacking the blaze by air because the steep, dense terrain left few escape options for ground crews if the fire suddenly shifted.

Cooler weather slowed the fire's progress over the weekend, and authorities re-opened the corridor along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to train and highway traffic guided by pilot cars.

But warmer temperatures and wind were forecast to return to the region this week, prompting concerns that the fire could pick up steam and threaten to close the corridor again.

-Matt Volz, Helena, Montana.

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11:35 a.m.

Nearly 4,000 people have volunteered to help fight numerous wildfires burning in the state of Washington.

State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie said Monday that is far more people than will be accepted as volunteers.

About 200 have been cleared to work on wildfires, and state officials are working to place them.

Last week Washington officials for the first time in state history requested assistance from residents with specific experience and skills to help battle the blazes.

Smillie says the state is looking for people who have previously been firefighters or who know how to operate equipment such as bulldozers that is used to build fire lines.

—Nicholas K. Geranios, Spokane.

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10:55 a.m.

A sheriff's department in eastern Oregon has ordered more evacuations near because of a wildfire that has already destroyed dozens of homes.

The Grant County Sheriff's Department issued the order Sunday night for an area near John Day. Authorities have yet to say how many homes are affected.

The agency said the evacuation level was increased because southwest winds were pushing the flames into the Norton Fork of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, about 280 miles east of Portland.

The wildfire started by lightning Aug. 12 has burned more than 100 square miles, much of it in the Malheur National Forest. Firefighters have contained about 25 percent of it.

The blaze has wrecked about 40 homes and another 50 other buildings, such as barns.

—Steven Dubois, Portland, Oregon.

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10:20 a.m.

About 70 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand have arrived in Boise, Idaho, and are scheduled to receive protective gear Monday before heading out to fight fires burning in the West.

The international firefighters are joining efforts in the U.S. because resources are stretched thin due to the number and severity of fires burning across several states.

Separately in Idaho, firefighters planned to hold and secure fire lines against a group of fires burning in timber a couple miles from the northern Idaho town of Kamiah.

The blazes have destroyed 42 homes and scorched about 72 square miles but nearly 800 firefighters have them 45 percent contained.

Idaho had 16 large fires Monday, the most in the nation.

— Keith Ridler, Boise, Idaho.

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9 a.m.

The massive fire burning in north-central Washington is now the largest in state history.

The Okanogan (oh-kah-NAH'-guhn) Complex of wildfires has surpassed last year's Carlton Complex blazes.

Fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday the Okanogan Complex was measured overnight at just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, which also burned in Okanogan County.

The latest group of fires grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to spread even more in coming days.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and notes it's only Aug. 24, meaning the fire could burn for several more months. Officials are still trying to determine how many homes and other structures have been burned.

About 1,250 people are battling the fires. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured near Twisp, Washington.

— Nicholas K. Geranios, Spokane.

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6:15 a.m.

At least 400 homes remain threatened as crews increase containment of a wildfire burning through timber near a popular ski resort in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains.

Water cannons usually used for making snow were pointed at the fire burning near Snow Summit resort in Big Bear Lake, about 100 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Firefighters working through the night held the blaze to about 100 acres. It is 30 percent contained early Monday.

The resort was open for mountain biking and scenic ski-lift rides before closing for the fire that broke out Sunday afternoon.

Evacuation orders are in place for up to 500 homes, many of them cabins and vacation houses.

All schools within the Bear Valley Unified School District are closed Monday. Several mountain roads are off-limits.

— Christopher Weber, Los Angeles.

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8:05 a.m.

A wildfire smoke health advisory has been issued through 9 a.m. for northeastern Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued the warning for east of the Continental Divide and north of Interstate 70.

Officials cite haze and smoke from Pacific Northwest, where more than a dozen large wildfires are burning across central and eastern Washington state.

The department recommends limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present, especially for vulnerable groups.

Cities affected by the advisory include Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Golden, Littleton, Brighton, Limon, Burlington, Fort Morgan, Sterling and Julesburg.

— Kristen Wyatt, Denver.