Weather front expected to fuel western wildfire growth

Weather frontexpected to fuel western wildfire growth

29 August 2006

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BOISE (AP) — Hot and dry weather preceding a cold front advancing across the West has wildland fire managers bracing for dozens of the largest wildfires to be on the move early this week.

“Tuesday is going to be a critical fire weather day from the Cascades (in Washington) all the way through Montana because of hot temperatures, gusting winds and low humidity out ahead of the front,” said Rick Ochoa, national fire weather program manager for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “There’s also strong potential for some lightning to occur Tuesday in the Northwest and Northern Rockies.”

But temperatures will plummet once the cold front moves inland through the Pacific Northwest, with a chance of rain and even snow in the Idaho, Wyoming and Montana mountains above 7,000-feet elevation.

A firefighting helicopter makes a drop on hot spots about 13 miles from Dayton, Wash., on the North Fork Touchet River Road
 Monday, Aug. 28, 2006, at the Columbia Complex forest fire.

“There’s going to be this roller-coaster weather pattern, where we warm up for a day or two in the West, then we drop off quite a bit and warm up again for the Labor Day weekend,” said Ochoa. “Over the next few days, the fires are going to be more active than they have been recently.”

The federal firefighting command center in Boise was tracking 15 major fires in Idaho, eight in Washington, seven in Oregon and six in Montana among the 47 large, active fires that were burning nearly 1,500 square miles in the West. Fire danger was classified as very high to extreme Monday in Arizona, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

More than 240 firefighters worked Monday to rein in the resurrected Trailhead fire in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which had been declared controlled on July 31 but roared back to life on Aug. 22. The fire is actively burning 10 miles southwest of Stanley in central Idaho and was 40% contained after torching more than six square miles.

Here are updates on the state’s other major, active fires:

_ Residents of the Yellow Pine and the Big Creek/Edwardsburg areas in the Payette National Forest remained under an advisory alert to be prepared to evacuate as the South Fork Complex, consisting of 26 separate fires, burned 13 miles east of McCall. A Forest Service work center, lookout tower, campgrounds and numerous power transmission lines were also at risk. There were 523 firefighters working the complex, which has burned 35 square miles of mixed conifer and subalpine fir.

_ More than 450 firefighters were committed on the Red Mountain Fire 12 miles northeast of Lowman that had burned 22 square miles of timber. Crews installed a sprinkler system around the Bull Trout Lake campground and were trying to use old burnout lines from a 1992 fire in the area to bolster containment lines in anticipation of a wind-driven run.

_ Crews on the Trail Creek fire 22 miles north of Stanley spent Monday removing trees that could spread fire to the Diamond D Ranch and the Loon Creek Guard Station, which are threatened by the southern flank of the blaze.

_ The Potato fire northeast of Stanley neared full containment Monday after burning since July 27 and covering 28 square miles. At a suppression cost of more than $13 million, it was Idaho’s most expensive fire this season. One abandoned cabin was destroyed, but several historic mining structures and residences were saved.

_ Cabins and outbuildings at Silver Creek Plunge in the Boise National Forest were being protected 13 miles northeast of Garden Valley on the 31-square-mile Rattlesnake Complex fire. Approximately 450 firefighters were working to build fire line and protect several forest facilities, including the historic Landmark Ranger Station.

_ Creeping fire in grasses and group tree torching were observed in the Heavens Gate Complex, a collection of fires totaling 12.8 square miles in the Gospel Hump Wilderness Area, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the Nez Perce National Forest. There were 283 firefighters assigned to the complex, which is 10 miles west of Riggins.

_ A historic fire lookout 10 miles north of Nordman in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest was prepared to withstand the approaching flames of the Hughes 32 Complex fire while 261 personnel were assigned to the Ulm Peak fire burning on the Panhandle forest along the Idaho-Montana border. Workers finished putting a protective wrap on the Gem Peak lookout in Montana’s neighboring Kootenai National Forest as a precaution against the Ulm Peak fire spreading eastward.


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