SAN DIEGO (AP) — Wildfires in California and Montana escalated overnight amid windy and hot weather and quickly encroached on neighborhoods, forcing evacuation orders for more than 100 homes Saturday as blazes spread across Idaho.
In California’s Klamath National Forest, the fast-spreading McKinney Fire, which began on Friday, had scorched from just over 1 square mile (1 square kilometer) to 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) by Saturday in mostly rural areas. Near the Oregon border, firefighters said. The fire burned at least a dozen residences and wild animals were seen fleeing the area to avoid the fire.
“They continue to rise due to the erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area, and our temperatures are in the triple digits,” said Caroline Quintanilla, spokeswoman for the Klamath National Forest.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the fire intensified. The ruling gives Newsom more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery decisions, as well as access federal assistance.
It also allows “out-of-state fire resources to assist California brigades in fighting wildfires,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
Meanwhile in Montana, the Elmo wildfire has nearly tripled in size to over 11 square miles (about 28 square kilometers) a few miles from the city of Elmo. About 200 miles (320 km) to the south, Idahoans remained under evacuation orders as an elk fire in the Salmon Challis National Forest burned more than 67.5 square miles (174.8 square kilometers) of woodland near the city of Salmon. It contained 17%.
According to Tom Stocksberry, US Forest Service spokesman for the region, the McKinney fire was caused by a significant growth of vegetation.
“This is a very dangerous fire – the terrain is steep and rugged, and this particular area has not burned for a long time,” he said.
A small fire was also burning near the town of Seyad, Stocksberry said. As lightning is forecast for the next few days, resources from across California have been called in to fight the fires in the region, he said.
McKinney’s explosive growth has forced crews to shift from trying to control the fire perimeter to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure such as water tanks and power lines, and help with evacuations in California’s northernmost Siskiyou County.
Deputies and law enforcement knocked on the doors of Yreka County and the city of Fort Jones, urging residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock to trailers. Automatic calls were also sent to landlines because there was no cell service in some areas.
More than 100 houses were ordered to be evacuated and authorities warned people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire led to the closure of sections of Highway 96.
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to reach the nearest town, while the US Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-kilometer) section of the trail from Mount Etna to the Mount Ashland campsite in southern Oregon.
Oregon Rep. Dacia Graber, a firefighter, was on a camping trip with her husband, who also works for the fire department, near the California border, when they were awakened by gale-force winds just after midnight.
The sky flashed with lightning in the clouds, and ash blew on them, although they were in Oregon, about 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) away. The intense heat from the fire raised a massive pyrocumulonimbus cloud that can create its own weather system, including winds and thunderstorms, Greiber said.
“These were some of the strongest winds I have ever experienced and we are used to big fires,” she said. “I thought he was going to rip the top tent off our truck. We got out of there.”
On the way back, they came across walkers on the Pacific Coast Trail running for their lives.
“The terrible part for us was the wind speed,” she said. “It went from a fairly cool windless night to hot, dry, hurricane-force winds. This usually happens during a fire during the day, but not at night. I hope for the sake of everyone this will calm down, but it looks like it’s only going to get worse.”
In western Montana, Elmo’s wind-blown fire forced the evacuation of homes and livestock as he raced through grass and wood, according to the Idaho-based National Interagency Fire Center. The agency estimated that it would take almost a month to contain the fire.
Smoke blocked part of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo due to thick smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Crews from several different agencies fought the fire on Saturday, including the Salish and Kootenai Confederate fire division. Six helicopters dropped 22 engines on the ground to fire.
In Idaho, more than 930 firefighters and support personnel battled a moose blaze on Saturday and protected homes, energy infrastructure and the Highway 93 corridor, a major north-south route.
A red flag warning indicated that the weather could worsen with a forecast promising “dry thunderstorms” with lightning, wind and no rain.
In Hawaii, fire brigades and helicopters put out a fire Saturday night on the island of Maui near Paya Bay. The Maui County Emergency Management Agency said the roads were closed and advised residents and travelers to avoid the area. It is not clear how many acres burned. The red alert is in effect on Sunday.
Meanwhile, crews have made significant progress in fighting another major fire in California that forced the evacuation of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The Oak fire was 52% contained by Saturday, according to an update on the Cal Fire incident.
As wildfires raged across the West, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved sweeping legislation aimed at helping communities in the region cope with increasingly severe wildfires and climate change-driven drought that have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses. in recent years.
The legislative measure, approved by federal lawmakers on Friday, consolidates 49 separate bills and will increase firefighters’ pay and benefits; build resilience and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; protect watersheds; and make it easier for wildfire victims to receive federal assistance.
The bill is now moving to the Senate, where California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein sponsored a similar measure.
said Boone from Boise, Idaho.
About the photo: A man runs towards a truck during a wildfire, called the McKinney Fire, in Klamath National Forest, California on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
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