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Devastating Wildfires Rage Across Western US

More than 8,400 firefighters are battling 29 wildfires in the West

Across the West, more than 8,400 firefighters are battling 29 wildfires that have forced residents to flee their homes and torched hundreds of structures.

The active blazes have collectively burned over 207,000 acres of land, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Thursday.  And, according to Accuweather Meterologist Ryan Adamson, little relief is in sight. 

"Warm, dry weather will continue over a large part of the Southwest into the weekend. In addition, winds will become gusty each afternoon," said Adamson.

These are prime conditions for fanning a spark or small fire into a large-scale inferno. 

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein says California’s wildfire season could be more severe than last year, with nearly 30,000 acres already burned.

Feinstein commented Thursday as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and firefighters with other agencies work to contain fires that have erupted around the state.

The winter’s heavy rains spawned heavy growth that has dried out in an early summer heat wave and is ready to burn.

California firefighters are battling a 700 acre (283-hectare) wildfire burning on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base and another in neighboring San Clemente. 

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz says the blaze is just 10 percent contained Thursday morning but damp ocean air moved in overnight and raised humidity levels, slowing the fire’s pace to a crawl.

California's largest fire, covering nearly 10 square miles (26 sq. kilometers) in Riverside County, is 86 percent contained.

A 400-acre (162-hectare) fire in Mariposa County on the western Sierra foothills is 10 percent surrounded.

In Los Angeles County, fires that flared dangerously close to Hollywood Hills and Burbank homes have been knocked down.

Further north, a wildfire burning in dry grasslands in a lowly populated part of central Washington state grew dramatically on Thursday, driven by hot weather and gusty winds.

The lightening-caused fire burning northwest of the town of Quincy increased in size from 16 square miles (41 square kilometers) on Wednesday to 74 square miles (192 square kilometers) on Thursday, the state Department of Natural Resources said. It was being fought by 275 firefighters, who had it 20 percent contained.

"Dry and gusty red flag conditions resulted in extreme fire growth in steep and rugged terrain," the agency said in statement.

Meanwhile, officials say a fast-moving wildfire in central New Mexico has grown to nearly 8 square miles (21 square kilometers).

Authorities say the lightning-sparked blaze expanded Thursday but is now 40 percent contained.

The fire is burning grass, brush and salt cedar on private land near San Marcial in Socorro County. The resulting plume of smoke could be seen by motorists along Interstate 25 and by weather forecasters on their radar systems.

Officials say lightning started the inferno Monday on private land.

To the west, conditions for the hundreds of firefighters battling a large northern Arizona blaze were looking good Thursday as officials announced some residents would be allowed back in their homes.

The fire near Prescott, about 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) north of Phoenix, grew slightly during the night but was better contained and would be aided by good weather, fire officials said Thursday.

The Yavapai Sheriff's Office also said that residents of the Mayer community will be allowed back in their homes Thursday morning. Mayer has about 1,400 residents.

Officials say humidity helped firefighting efforts Wednesday night despite a temporary halt to aircraft operations because of an unauthorized drone in the area. Several helicopters and fire crews had to stop working for about 45 minutes to an hour because the drone posed a serious safety hazard. Authorities did not find the pilot.

"Yesterday was very good day. We got that break in that weather. I'm feeling good," said Todd Abel, Southwest Area Incident Management Team Operations Section chief.

Authorities say low winds will help efforts Thursday and that it's likely a larger percent of the fire has been contained.

More than 800 firefighters were battling the blaze burning in communities around Prescott, a mountain city that draws a mix of desert dwellers escaping the heat, retirees and visitors to its famed Old West-themed Whiskey Row.

Yavapai County spokesman David McAtee said Wednesday about 3,400 people in the area have been affected by the fire and roughly 3,000 structures in the evacuated areas were at risk but officials were not immediately sure how many are homes.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey plans to visit the area Thursday after declaring a state of emergency in Yavapai County that directs $200,000 in emergency funds to fire suppression efforts and reimbursements for emergency response and recovery costs.

It's also a key requirement should federal aid be requested.

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said Thursday that the governor would be meeting with fire officials and evacuees.

Elsewhere, hundreds of people forced from their homes by a southern Utah wildfire are expected to be allowed back to a ski town even as the blaze grows. Fire managers said Thursday at 25-mph wind gusts have pushed the wildfire near Brian Head to more than 91 square miles (236 square kilometers), though firefighters have increased containment to 15 percent. The fire was ignited by a weed-burning torch.

In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared a disaster emergency to add resources for crews battling a wildfire in the southwest part of the state.

Hickenlooper’s declaration Thursday allows the Colorado National Guard to provide support if needed. The state already has sent aircraft to help ground crews battle the blaze, which has grown to more than 250 acres (100 hectares) since it began Wednesday and forced residents to evacuate 170 homes.

A house fire started the blaze about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) west of Durango. Firefighters battled a second spot fire nearby that likely was caused by a wind-blown ember from the first blaze.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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