LIND, Wash. –
A small town in Washington state that was evacuated due to a fast-moving fire was largely spared Friday, while in California crews made progress against the state’s deadliest and largest wildfire of the year.
Adams County Sheriff Dale Wagner said the fire that had been threating the eastern Washington town of Lind was contained after burning six homes and eight other structures. He said firefighters were watching over hot spots.
The sheriff’s office had told Lind’s residents to evacuate on Thursday afternoon because of the encroaching flames. With the help of state and local resources, the fire started to calm down and by 8 p.m. Thursday all evacuation orders were lifted for the community of about 500 people approximately 75 miles (121 kilometres) southwest of Spokane.
Wagner said Friday that a firefighter who suffered smoke inhalation and was flown to Spokane for treatment had been released and was recuperating at home.
State officials said Friday that Washington is experiencing its worst fire activity of the year between the fire in Lind and several others that sparked this week, The Seattle Times reported.
With rising temperatures and thunderstorms in the forecast, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and officials with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said at a media briefing.
Meanwhile, in California, fire crews on Friday had a massive wildfire 30% contained and had managed to carve firebreaks around much of the week-old blaze.
The McKinney Fire destroyed much of the small hamlet of Klamath River near the Oregon border and killed four people, whose identities haven’t been confirmed by authorities.
The blaze forced thousands from their homes and destroyed more than 100 buildings, including at least 87 residences, authorities said at a Friday night community meeting.
The fire hasn’t advanced much for days as thunderstorms dumped brief but heavy rain on the fire’s eastern flanks and more firefighting resources were sent to battle the blaze, which has burned about 93 square miles (241 square kilometres).
However, some of the storms didn’t produce much rain but released gusty winds that drove flames – especially when the blaze first erupted on July 29 – and lightning that sparked dozens of smaller blazes, which firefighters managed to prevent from spreading.
Forecasts were calling for triple-digit temperatures and plunging humidity levels this weekend, along with possible winds that could create conditions for further wildfire growth.
“The conditions Sunday and Monday are going to be almost identical to when this fire started,” fire behaviour analyst Dennis Burns said. “The biggest fear is that … we have a jackpot of unburned fuel within the fire perimeter.”
The concern is that the tinder-dry trees and brush could burn so hot that they create a towering pillar of smoke that can make its own weather, including lightning, Burns said.
California and much of the rest of the West is in drought and wildfire danger is high, with the historically worst of the fire season still to come. Fires are burning throughout the region.
The Moose Fire in Idaho as of Friday had burned more than 105 square miles (273 square kilometres) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest near the town of Salmon. Steep terrain and extremely dry fuel conditions were continuing to pose challenges for firefighters but officials said firefighters were hoping to extend and strengthen containment lines with more favourable weather forecast in the next few days.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. California has seen its largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the last five years.
Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Haven Daley in Klamath River, Calif., and Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.