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Fires May Need Military*

Military may be called on to fight Western fires

August 15, 2001 Posted: 7:56 PM EDT (2356 GMT)

Fire burns southeast of Okanogan, Washington, early Wednesday.



BOISE, Idaho (CNN) -- The dry, windy dog days of August have pushed the Western wildfire season into full swing, with 20,200 firefighters battling 43 active large fires across 10 states Wednesday.

Resources are stretched so thin that the National Interagency Fire Center on Wednesday raised its "national preparedness level" to 5 -- as high as it can go -- for the first time this year. More than 550 fire crews are in the field.

"It's kind of the trigger point where the U.S. military is asked to provide relief," said NIFC spokeswoman Benetia Gempler. "It's really when our resources have gotten taxed."


Bush administration, Western governors endorse wildfire plan

Gempler said the fire agency has so far not requested military assistance but is making plans to put military personnel on the ground if it becomes necessary.

According to the NIFC, the 43 active large fires have scorched more than 376,000 acres of land. Hardest hit are Oregon and California, which between them have 17 blazes.

Hot weather and dry conditions hampered firefighters on Tuesday as they battled four major fires.

Major fires also continue to burn in Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Wyoming, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Near-record temperatures along the West Coast and thunderstorms in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington are expected to challenge firefighting efforts Wednesday, the fire center said. Lightning in thunderstorms can trigger new fires.

A 60-day wildland fire forecast, issued Sunday by the National Interagency Coordination Center, said a dry winter and drought conditions stretching back several years in many areas have created "critical" fire danger conditions, which will continue for at least the next three weeks.

However, according to the NICC's forecast, the current level of fire activity "is not atypical for this time of year" in the West.

Here is a breakdown of fire activity by state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center:

-- Oregon: More than 102,000 acres have been consumed at nine fire sites. Fires at three of those sites are uncontained, while the rest have been partially contained.

Firefighters work to extinguish hot spots and remove brush near Emigrant Gap, California.

The most active fires are the Quartz fire, near Ashland; the Olallie Lake fire, in the Mount Hood National Forest southeast of Portland; and the Monument Complex fire, which is threatening several structures about three miles from the town of Monument.

The largest fire, about 30 percent contained, is the Lakeview fire in the Fremont National Forest in the south-central part of the state. It has burned more than 44,400 acres.

-- California: Nearly 127,000 acres have been blackened by eight fires. All have been at least partially contained, although the Blue Complex fire, in the Modoc National Forest between the towns of Likely and Eagleville in the extreme northeast corner of the state, is only 10 percent contained.

Evacuation orders are in effect for the communities of Blue Lake and Jess Valley, and the Blue Lake campground has been closed.

The Trough fire, which has burned nearly 13,300 acres in Mendocino National Forest northwest of Sacramento, is about 60 percent contained. Officials have erected protection for historical structures threatened by the fire.

Robby Bissel of the Newcastle Fire Department in Newcastle, California, naps Tuesday evening after fighting the Sierra Nevada Gap fire along Interstate 80 in Emigrant Gap, California.

-- Nevada: Nearly 110,000 acres have been burned by seven fires. All have been at least partially contained, although three fires -- Clear Creek and Spaulding Canyon, south of Winnemucca, and Buffalo, near the town of Midas -- are less than 15 percent contained.

A structure protection task force has been moved into the town of Midas, and plans have been put in place for a possible evacuation if fire threatens the town.

-- Washington: Nearly 23,000 acres have been consumed by six fires. Only one of those fires, the Virginia Lake fire on the Colville Indian Reservation near Okanagan, is partially contained at 30 percent. Some roads are closed and plans have been put in place for possible evacuations.

Extreme weather conditions are hindering efforts to contain the Icicle fire, which has scorched 450 acres in the Wenatchee National Forest near the town of Leavenworth. Some residents in the remote area were ordered to evacuate.

Another fire, about five miles north of Brewster in north-central Washington, has burned 3,000 acres.

-- Idaho: More than 13,700 acres have been burned by six fires.

Only one of them, the Elk Creek fire in Payette National Forest, east of Warren, is uncontained, although firefighters are reporting progress.

Mop-up operations are continuing around four other fires that are more than 70 percent contained. The Johnson Creek fire, in the Sawtooth National Forest south of Burley near the Utah border, has been about 30 percent contained. It has burned 125 acres.

-- Montana: About 520 acres consumed in two fires, including Monitor Creek, 15 miles northwest of Gardiner, and Werner Peak, north of Whitefish.

-- Texas: About 575 acres burned in two fires, including Hamilton, 60 miles east of Waco, and Rice, 50 miles southeast of Dallas.

-- Arizona: The Agua Caliente fire about 25 miles northwest of Gila Bend has scarred 230 acres and is about 40 percent contained. Weather conditions have hampered firefighting efforts.

-- Wyoming: The Falcon fire, about 50 miles northeast of Jackson, has blackened 275 acres. It is about 20 percent contained.

-- Oklahoma: The Wild Mountain fire, near Sand Springs, has burned about 120 acres and is 80 percent contained. The blaze threatened some homes in the area.

(Original Len: 6420 Condensed Len: 6700)

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