FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – After a week of battling high temperatures, gusting winds and lightning, firefighters caught enough of a break from a storm system to tame California’s largest wildfire.
The blaze in California’s Inyo National Forest was in “mop-up mode” after blackening nearly 55 square miles, and officials there were sending the fire crews to help out elsewhere, fire information officer Jim Wilkins said.
Wildfires were still burning elsewhere in California and 11 other western states on Thursday, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.
Five of the top priority wildfires were in Utah, where crews are fighting the biggest blaze in state history, which had spread across 514 square miles by Wednesday, authorities said. The fire about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City was 30 percent contained, officials said. National Weather Service forecasters said they expected more high winds Thursday, which could hamper containment efforts.
In southeastern Utah, the nation’s top-priority fire burned 3 square miles near gas wells and within a half-mile of one of Utah’s deepest coal mines. Officials said it was about 50 percent contained Wednesday.
In Arizona, a fire that had burned about 11 square miles and threatened buildings at the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson was 70 percent contained Thursday, and the telescope complex was expected to reopen for scientific observations today.
Nevada’s largest blaze – near the Idaho line – had grown to about 128 square miles Thursday and was 80 percent contained, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center Manager Bill Roach said.
In southern Idaho, more than 230 firefighters had an 81-square-mile fire about 40 percent contained.
Crews in South Dakota were hoping cool and cloudy weather would help them battle a blaze that killed one homeowner and destroyed 30 houses. The blaze had covered more than 15 square miles and was 40 percent contained Wednesday.
In Washington, authorities said they had 100 percent containment on two wildfires near Wenatchee, about 100 miles east of Seattle, and 90 percent containment on a wildfire further north in Okanogan County.
More record heat was forecast in the Northwest, adding to the problems faced by crews battling the fires in Washington. High temperatures up to 107 degrees were forecast for Thursday and today in south-central Washington.
Officials declared California’s 35,000-acre Inyo fire mostly under control, but said it would remain listed at just 80 percent containment as the western flank continued burning in an area with little vegetation that’s too treacherous for crews to access, Wilkins said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Inyo County on Wednesday to free up state resources for fighting the blaze and helping residents of Independence whose water supply was contaminated by the fire.
The Inyo fire has injured 11 firefighters and destroyed six homes in the area north of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental U.S.
Near the central coast, firefighters continued to cut lines Wednesday to corral a 10,400-acre blaze in the Los Padres National Forest that was 37 percent contained, said fire information officer Tony Guzman.