Hot, dry weather encouraging western wildfires

The Associated PressJuly 14, 2014 

— A southern Oregon wildfire has destroyed six homes and 14 other buildings, and dozens of additional blazes ignited after thousands of lightning strikes lashed the state.

In central Oregon, a wildfire at the confluence of the Ochoco National Forest and ranchland has prompted the evacuation of numerous campgrounds and nearly a dozen ranch homes, Wheeler County Sheriff Chris Humphreys said Monday night. Local fire departments were protecting homes.

The Bailey Butte fire also temporarily closed a 2-mile section of U.S. Highway 26 about 13 miles west of Mitchell, the Oregon Transportation Department said.

The destructive Moccasin Hill fire — named for a longstanding subdivision — began Sunday near the ranching town of Sprague River, about 25 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, fire spokeswoman Erica Hupp said Monday. Many residents keep horses and cattle on plots of 3 to 5 acres, and neighbors have been stepping in to shelter both stock and pets, she said.

The blaze has burned across about 4 square miles, fire officials said, and caused more than 100 people to evacuate before the threat subsided and many returned home.

Another fire spokeswoman, Tina O'Donnell, said 231 structures remained threatened Monday and one minor injury was reported. She did not know if the injury was suffered by a resident or a firefighter.

Walter "Butch" Browning, who operates a general store in Sprague River, said the flames reached the driveway at his home Sunday afternoon, forcing his wife to "get out of there" with a computer, a change of clothes, medications and the dogs. The wind changed direction, he said, sparing his place. He slept in his own bed, confident there were enough firefighters between his house and the blaze that has left burning stumps.

Wildfires are an annual concern for the community, Browning said. He has been evacuated at least four times in his 22 years on the property, and once lost a home, he said.

"I had two houses at one time; I have one now. I'm down to my last house," he quipped. "It's the price you pay for living in paradise, I guess."

A shelter for displaced residents has been set up at the Sprague River Community Center. Only one person spent the night, but more people filtered in Monday to take advantage of food and other services, said Julie Miller, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Cascades Region.

The fire is believed to have been started by humans, though how it began is still under investigation. It is zero percent contained.

"Our objectives are clear; we will minimize the growth of the fire by utilizing direct attack efforts wherever possible," said incident commander Chris Cline.

Meanwhile, lightning struck Oregon more than 6,000 times Sunday and Monday, touching off small fires by the dozens on both sides of the Cascades. Such a barrage can be expected to cause numerous "sleeper" or holdover fires in coming days, said Robin DeMario, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Elsewhere in the West, authorities in Northern California say a wildfire started by exhaust from a truck at a marijuana cultivation site led to new evacuations Monday. It was not clear how many homes were included in the new evacuation order in the rural Shasta County community of Igo.

Fire officials previously said the Bully Fire, which started on Friday, was threatening 15 homes after destroying eight homes and 10 other structures.

A 27-year-old Sacramento man, Freddie Alexander Smoke III, was arrested on suspicion of causing the blaze. Fire crews have been hindered by steep terrain, dry conditions and triple-digit heat.

In Idaho, the Boise County Sheriff's Office asked residents of about 60 homes east of Alder Creek in Garden Valley to voluntarily evacuate because of the Calder Fire. It's one of about 20 blazes sparked by lightning across the Boise National Forest during a storm Sunday night.

Firefighters got a better handle Monday on a wildfire burning in central Washington.

The Mills Canyon fire was 34 percent contained by Monday night, fire officials said. It remains about 35 square miles. The area near Entiat saw a few lightning strikes Monday but no new fire starts, fire spokesman Vladimir Steblina said.

Residents of three dozen homes have been told to evacuate. Officials notified residents of about 500 other homes to watch fire updates and be prepared to leave.

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