Erratic winds and the potential for dry lightning have added to the challenges facing firefighters battling California’s largest wildfire, one of numerous blazes burning across the US West.
Over the weekend, the massive Dixie Fire merged with the smaller Fly Fire and tore through the remote northern California community of Indian Falls.
The blaze had already levelled at least 16 houses and other structures, but a new damage estimate was not immediately available because flames were still raging in the mountain area.
“Fire behaviour has been so unpredictable, it hasn’t been safe for inspectors to go in to work,” said Mitch Matlow, a fire spokesman. “Until things settle down, we won’t know the extent of what’s burned.”
Flames spread in remote areas with steep terrain crews cannot easily reach, Mr Matlow said.
Gusty winds hindered containment efforts and the problem could get worse with the predicted arrival later of pyrocumulus clouds — literally meaning “fire clouds” — which can bring lightning and the risk of new ignitions.
Fire officials said the blaze had charred nearly 309 square miles of timber and brush in Plumas and Butte counties, about two hours north east of Sacramento. It was 22% contained and more than 10,000 homes were still under threat.
Authorities were hopeful that improving weather will help them continue to make progress against the nation’s largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon.
It was 53% contained after scorching 640 square miles of remote land. On Monday, an additional crew of Oregon National Guardsmen were sent to help out the more than 2,200 people battling the blaze.
The lightning-caused fire has burned at least 70 homes, mainly cabins, and 2,000 residences were under evacuation orders.
In Montana, four firefighters were released from hospital and a fifth was being treated at a burn centrey after a wildfire overran them last week, authorities said.
The five were building a defensive line at the Devil’s Creek Fire in Garfield County when winds shifted suddenly and blew flames back at them.
The firefighter still being treated — a US Fish and Wildlife Service employee — “is making good progress and is in good spirits”, spokesperson Kari Cobb said.
Crews were trying to keep the 10-square-mile fire from reaching Fort Peck Reservoir along the Missouri River in central Montana. It is one of three major fires in the state.
Elsewhere in California, the 105-square-mile Tamarack Fire, south of Lake Tahoe, continued to burn through timber and chaparral and threatened communities on both sides of the California-Nevada border.
The fire, sparked by lightning on July 4 in Alpine County, California, has destroyed at least 23 buildings, including more than a dozen in Nevada. It was 45% contained.
In north-central Washington state, firefighters battled two blazes in Okanogan County that threatened hundreds of homes and again caused hazardous air quality conditions over the weekend.
More than 85 large wildfires are burning across the country, most of them in western states, and have burned more than 2,343 square miles of land.
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