Eintime Conversion for education and research 10-20-2007 @ 07:24:18
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Wildfires flare across the West

RENO (AP) — An 8,000-acre wildfire forced hundreds of people in the town of Winnemucca to leave their homes, one of more than a dozen blazes that charred a combined 55 square miles in northern Nevada.

The blaze was among a series that dotted the West on Saturday as a heat wave made parched terrain even drier, forcing authorities to evacuate homes and close highways and wilderness areas.

MORE ON THE HEAT: Oppressive temperatures could continue for several more days

A 100-mile stretch of Interstate 15 in central Utah was closed when a 160,000-acre wildfire jumped the highway, and other fires burned in California, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The fire near Winnemucca, about 170 miles east of Reno, threatened up to eight blocks of homes and an electrical substation, said U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jamie Thompson.

"It's right up to the south edge of town," he said. "The fire definitely poses a danger to parts of the town. It's certainly got everyone's attention."

The largest of the Nevada fires burned 36 square miles, or 23,000 acres, along the Idaho border, said Mike Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It was 10% contained Saturday, officials said. A firefighter was treated at and released from a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, with burns.

Another fire blackened 11 square miles, or 7,000 acres, about five miles southwest of Carlin. It burned two mobile homes and several smaller structures, and shut down a section of Interstate 80 for six hours overnight, fire information officer Tracie Winfrey said. On Saturday morning, the fire was 40% contained.

Yet another Nevada fire that was started by lightning Saturday threatened structures and led to the evacuation of campers about 30 miles south of Elko, officials said.

The Utah fire, about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City, also forced the evacuations of Cove Fort and the Blundell Geo Thermal Power Plant, where it was threatening railroad lines, bridges and several homes, Color County Fire Information Officer LaCee Bartholomew said.

Interstate 70 was also closed in Richfield, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said.

The fire, which has burned about 250 square miles, was triggered by lightning Friday afternoon and was pushed north and west Saturday by high winds, Bartholomew said. Fire crews had help from air tankers, but the heavy smoke was increasing the risk to those on the ground, she said.

In California, more than 400 firefighters battled a blaze that has consumed 17,000 acres of the 2 million-acre Inyo National Forest east of Yosemite National Park, forest spokeswoman Nancy Upham said Saturday. Firefighters were searching for and evacuating hikers and backpackers on and near the popular trail to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.

At least 200 people from the small town of Independence were evacuated, officials said, and a section of Highway 395, which runs along the eastern spine of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was closed. Campgrounds and a lodge had been evacuated, Upham said.

In Southern California, a wildfire charred 6,300 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest, threatening campgrounds and ranches and the historic Manzana schoolhouse, a century-old wooden building.

The fires have been fueled by an oppressive heat wave that has been felt throughout the region for days but has now eased a bit in places. Still, forecasters predicted little relief in the days ahead for a region where many cities have baked in triple-digit temperatures.

In Idaho, residents of the Wood River Valley and Boise were warned they could see electrical failures in the middle of the heat wave.

A wildfire damaged dozens of power poles on Friday and caused one to fall on a substation and destroy a transformer, said Jeff Beaman, a spokesman for Idaho Power. Beaman said the substation would be repaired Saturday night but he had no estimate for when power poles could be back up.

The damage could cause rotating outages, and residents were asked to reduce their power usage so the utility could meet demand, Beaman said.

In Montana, it was even too hot to fish.

Yellowstone National Park and state fisheries managers asked anglers starting Saturday not to fish on some Montana rivers between noon and 6 p.m. because of drought and scorching weather. Water temperatures in some lower-elevation rivers have reached 73 degrees in recent days, conditions that can stress and even kill fish, the National Park Service said Friday.

Park officials hoped the voluntary restrictions would prevent mandatory closures later in the season.

In Wenatchee, Wash., a brush fire driven by gusty winds forced the evacuation of about 40 homes in the Warm Springs Canyon area. The fire covered about 1,000 acres of brush and sage.

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10-20-2007 @ 07:24:18