'It just shot up so fast'; Fires blaze across West

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Associated Press

Posted on August 14, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 14 at 9:30 PM

CLE ELUM, Wash. (AP) — As firefighters across the West responded to blazes, efforts in Washington state were made especially difficult Tuesday as wind gusts pushed fast-moving flames through a small town, destroying dozens of houses.

The fire in central Washington has burned about 70 homes, scorching along roughly 40 square miles of grassland, timber and sagebrush, authorities said.

More than 400 people have been evacuated, said Department of Natural Resources Fire Incident Commander Rex Reed. No injuries have been reported, but authorities say that because of wind, heat and dry conditions, the fire danger is extreme.

"We've had a long prolonged dry period — three weeks with no precipitation at all," Reed said.

The blaze sparked up at a construction site Monday afternoon near Cle Elum, a town about 75 miles east of Seattle, and spread rapidly.

Brad Rorem and his two sons were preparing gear to float down the Yakima River and fish when they spotted the blaze under the bridge from their home.

"It sort of erupted, and the wind was blowing hard in our faces. It just shot up so fast," he said, adding later, "We feel really fortunate to have gotten off the mountain in time."

Kittitas County Fire and Rescue Capt. Joe Seemiller said the wind has made it extremely difficult to turn back the flames.

"Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we're going to be fighting this awhile," he said.

In Idaho, authorities said a firefighter was killed by a falling tree Sunday. Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, died as she worked a fire near Orofino, the U.S. Forest Service said.

In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 34 square miles, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state's western desert.

Along the Nevada-Oregon state line a vast wildfire has grown to about 675 square miles. Over the weekend, the blaze forced evacuations and forced one firefighter to crawl into an emergency fire shelter. She suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Across California, thousands of firefighters also were contending with dry conditions, strong winds and triple-digit temperatures. The blazes left some areas with smoke lingering in the air.

In Northern California, hundreds of evacuees were allowed to return home as crews made progress against a wildfire that threatened 500 homes in the Spring Valley and Long Valley communities.

In Southern California, a cluster of four lightning-sparked wildfires in northeastern San Diego County stretched to nearly 4 square miles, state fire officials said.

Officials added there is also threat to electrical distribution lines that serve the communities of Borrego Springs, Warner Springs and Ranchita, some 50 miles northeast of downtown San Diego.

Fires across California have also affected some national parks with road and camp closures, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

Also, smaller blazes have been reported in New Mexico and Wyoming.

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Associated Press writers Terry Collins in San Francisco, John Miller in Boise, Idaho; Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore.; Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City, Doug Esser in Seattle and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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