The Latest: Forest Service chief tours damage in New Mexico

AP News
|
Posted: Jun 24, 2016 9:13 PM
The Latest: Forest Service chief tours damage in New Mexico

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on wildfires burning in the West (all times local):

6:05 p.m.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell says it's the peak of fire season in the Southwest and extensive droughts throughout the region have made fire conditions more severe.

He made the comments Friday after touring central New Mexico where a wildfire raced across 28 square miles, forced evacuations and destroyed 24 homes and numerous other structures.

Tidwell and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation were briefed by fire officials. The blaze is now more than 80 percent contained thanks to rain and high humidity levels.

Tidwell says what's happening in New Mexico, Arizona and California was expected and it's going to continue as the fire season moves north.

Tidwell says the New Mexico fire could have been worse had it not been for thinning and other preparations made in the Manzano Mountains in recent years.

___

5 p.m.

A wildfire that has destroyed 80 homes and killed two people has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in Central California.

The proclamation issued Friday frees up money and resources for the firefight and the aftermath of the blaze.

It also temporarily suspends some state regulations and waives fees as a way to ease the return of evacuees and those who have lost homes.

Brown's statement offers condolences to those affected by the fire and commends the courage of firefighters.

The blaze began Thursday and quickly tore through rural neighborhoods near Lake Isabella northeast of Bakersfield.

Some 1,500 homes are under evacuation orders.

___

2:05 p.m.

Utah firefighters are trying to keep a wildfire burning in a forest on the edge of a small mountain town from descending on homes.

Officials encouraged residents of about 400 homes in the southwestern Utah town of Pine Valley to leave the area and warned that mandatory evacuations could be ordered if the fire flares up.

The lightning-caused blaze was about a mile away from some homes Friday after charring about 1 ½ square miles while burning on a steep canyon slope above the town.

Fire officials ordered the evacuation of about 100 homes in the town earlier in the week but lifted the order Thursday.

___

1:15 p.m.

Authorities say a wildfire roaring through mountain communities in central California has killed two people.

Kern County fire spokesman Phil Neufeld says Friday that two residents were found dead in Lake Isabella, a popular recreation area east of Bakersfield.

No other details are immediately available.

The wind-whipped fire has destroyed 80 homes in the southern Sierra Nevada and exploded to more than 29 square miles.

It erupted Thursday afternoon and moved so fast that many people had little time to flee as propane tanks exploded and smoke obscured the path to safety.

___

12:55 p.m.

Smoke from California's wildfires has prompted an air quality alert across the border in the Las Vegas area.

The Clark County Department of Air Quality issued a warning Friday about elevated levels of ozone and smoke coming from wildfires outside Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

Southern Nevada officials say there is or will be an unhealthy level of pollution at least through Saturday morning, particularly for those sensitive to air quality conditions.

Officials are urging people to stay indoors, limit outdoor exercise and run the air conditioner, as smoke and dust can aggravate respiratory illnesses.

The latest alert is an upgrade from an existing air quality advisory that's in effect through Monday.

___

12:20 p.m.

Authorities say a massive wildfire is no longer endangering residents of some eastern Arizona communities.

The Navajo County Sheriff's Office announced Friday that residents in Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and other unincorporated areas can stand down after being told for days to prepare to evacuate if needed.

Navajo County spokesman Adam Wolfe says the White Mountain Apache Tribe will make its own decision about whether to lift notices on tribal land.

Law enforcement made the decision after consulting with the incident team overseeing the fire.

Residents still are prohibited from building campfires, using fireworks or smoking outdoors.

The blaze has burned 72 square miles and is less than halfway contained.

___

11:10 a.m.

Officials say a wildfire in eastern Arizona that has burned 72 square miles of brush and pine is nearly half contained.

Firefighters made significant progress Thursday on a blaze that has prompted pre-evacuation notices in Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low and nearby communities.

Officials say the fire is now 42 percent contained after officials were able to put down miles of fire line on the north and south edges of the blaze.

However, firefighters are concerned about the possible impact of any rain in the coming weeks.

A team trained to evaluate burned out areas says half of the drainages near the community of Cedar Creek have been severely damaged.

___

10:40 a.m.

A wind-whipped wildfire burning among mountain communities in California's southern Sierra Nevada has ballooned to more than 29 square miles.

The latest measurement at midmorning Friday is more than double the previous estimate.

About 100 buildings around the popular recreation area of Lake Isabella have been destroyed, including 80 homes, since the blaze erupted Thursday afternoon and sent residents fleeing.

Fire authorities say an additional 1,500 structures are threatened.

Six hundred firefighters are battling the blaze about 35 miles northeast of Bakersfield and hundreds more are on their way.

___

9:30 a.m.

A wildfire that has burned 28 square miles in central New Mexico is nearly contained.

The blaze in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque has destroyed two dozen homes. It was more than 80 percent contained as of Friday morning.

Fire officials say crews benefited from nearly 3 inches of rain falling on areas of the fire Thursday. They say the chance of hot spots igniting has decreased drastically.

Meanwhile, firefighters further north are battling a wildfire within the municipal watershed for Santa Fe. The blaze, which started Thursday afternoon, has grown to 15 acres and isn't at all contained.

___

9:10 a.m.

Firefighters are clearing brush and wetting grass on the edges of a forest near the Colorado-Wyoming border where a blaze has burned 8 square miles.

Crews are concentrating on keeping the flames from about 40 nearby vacation homes. So far, only a few small structures have burned.

Officials have stepped up their response since the blaze broke out Sunday, with 379 firefighters on the lines versus 120 earlier in the week. A team experienced in dealing with a complex fire got in place Thursday.

Team spokesman Brian Scott said Friday that large, standing trees killed by a beetle infestation are fueling the blaze. A dead tree could fall at any time, creating a risk to firefighters.

Scott says heavy rains overnight didn't dampen much of the fire, but it didn't spread. Thunderstorms expected this weekend could bring winds that spread the flames.

___

8:50 a.m.

Residents have described a frantic flight from mountain communities where a wildfire burned dozens of homes to the ground in California's southern Sierra Nevada.

The blaze has destroyed 80 houses and 20 other buildings around Lake Isabella, a major recreation destination 35 miles northeast of Bakersfield. Three firefighters have suffered smoke inhalation.

Several thousand people have been forced to evacuate, and some 1,500 homes are threatened.

Cachet Kirby said Friday that she and neighbors grabbed clothes, blankets and their dogs and fled through thick smoke as flames came down the mountains.

The 22-year-old says she couldn't see or breathe. She and others were desperate for information about their homes.

___

7:15 a.m.

An explosive wildfire that has destroyed 80 homes and is threatening some 1,500 other residences in the central California mountains has grown to more than 12 square miles.

Fire officials said Friday that the blaze also has destroyed about 20 other buildings around Lake Isabella, a major outdoor recreation destination in the southern Sierra Nevada. It's not clear what those structures were.

Forecasters have posted warnings of very low humidity and gusty winds of up to 55 mph that could worsen the fire 35 miles northeast of Bakersfield.

Similar warnings are posted 150 miles south for mountains near Los Angeles.