Firefighters save homes from Oregon wildfires

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Associated Press

Posted on August 7, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 7 at 3:32 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters pouring water into drought-parched trees and brush saved a cluster of homes in Oregon's Columbia Gorge from a wind-driven wildfire.

The Rowena Fire has burned about 4 square miles of trees and brush about 6 miles west of The Dalles, in north Oregon. Residents of 275 homes have been told to evacuate and dozens more were warned to be ready to go on short notice.

Fire spokeswoman Tina O'Donnell said crews were clearing vegetation Thursday to create buffer zones around the homes. No homes were lost overnight.

Donna Bender owns a vacation home in Rowena. She says she saw one unburnt house surrounded by a charred landscape along old Highway 30 before being told to evacuate. She took some real estate papers and photos from the walls and had to tell some renters they could not move in.

"It's a scary thing," she said. "It sure is smoking up the area."

O'Donnell said people in The Dalles gathered in gas stations and on streets on the western side of town Wednesday night and watched the flames creep down a hillside several miles away.

She said wind gusts of up to 30 mph were expected Thursday afternoon in the area that draws windsurfers from around the world.

The fire started Tuesday evening in brush, and when it made a run along the river Wednesday evening, residents of 275 homes in Rowena were told to evacuate, fire spokesman Dave Wells said.

By Thursday morning it was just over 4.1 square miles and still moving through steep terrain that is home to rattlesnakes, ticks and poison oak.

Residents of nearly 90 homes in an outlying subdivision of The Dalles, a city of about 14,000, were told to be ready to leave if necessary, Wells said.

"We've got a challenging fire on our hands," fire spokesman Justin de Ruyter said.

In northern Idaho, five structures have been destroyed and 160 threatened by a wildfire burning on 64 square miles of mostly grass on the east side of the Snake River across from Oregon and Washington state. Big Cougar Fire spokesman Tom Rhodes said it's unclear if the destroyed structures are homes or outbuildings in the remote area accessible only by boat. Residents have been told to evacuate.

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday asked President Barack Obama to declare parts of eastern Washington a major disaster area because of wildfires that have destroyed more than 300 homes this year.

A declaration would provide federal assistance to help families, business owners and local governments recover from the wildfires.

Inslee sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asking for federal aid for Chelan and Okanogan counties and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. That covers the area where fires destroyed 323 homes this summer, including the Carlton Complex, the largest wildfire in state history.

"The people of Chelan and Okanogan counties and the Colville Reservation are resilient, but at the same time, their governments' resources can only go so far," Inslee said. "Federal assistance is needed."

Several large fires continue to burn in Washington.

The Devil's Elbow Complex on the Colville Reservation has burned across about 10.9 square miles, or 7,000 acres. Residents of about 25 homes have been told to evacuate. Fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said late Wednesday that no homes have burned. About 210 firefighters are attacking the flames.

The Snag Canyon wildfire near Ellensburg in central Washington has grown to 10 square miles and is being fought by about 450 firefighters. That fire has destroyed eight homes and threatens 179 structures.

— In California, light rain and an infusion of personnel and equipment from as far away as San Diego allowed fire crews to continue gaining momentum Wednesday on a pair of wildfires that exploded over the weekend in northern California and have burned more than 110 square miles, officials said. The two fires burning about 7 miles apart in Shasta and Lassen counties were among nine major wildfires that erupted in a 24-hour period last week, most sparked by lightning.

Eight homes, a historic post office and a restaurant were lost in the smaller of the two fires that started in Lassen National Forest and threatened Burney, a town of about 3,000 people in Shasta County. An evacuation advisory for Burney was lifted on Tuesday.

The spread of the second blaze had also slowed enough that people living in its path were allowed to return home on Tuesday afternoon.

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Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Wash., contributed to this report.

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