Western US wildfires grow in size amid hot, windy conditions

Wildfires in California and Montana grew overnight in hot, windy conditions and quickly encroached on neighborhoods, forcing evacuation orders for more than 100 homes on Saturday, while a blaze in Idaho was spreading.

In California’s Klamath National Forest, the rapid McKinney Fire, which began on Friday, grew from charring just over a square mile (1 km2) to up to 62 square miles (160 km2 ) Saturday in a largely rural area. area near the Oregon state line, according to firefighters.

The blaze burned at least a dozen homes and wild animals were seen fleeing the area to avoid the flames.

A fire truck drives along California Highway 96 as the McKinney Fire burns in the Klamath National Forest (Noah Berger/AP) (AP)

Klamath National Forest spokeswoman Caroline Quintanilla said, “It’s continuing to grow with erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area and we’re in triple digit temperatures.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the fire escalated. The proclamation gives him more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and access federal assistance.

It also allows “firefighting resources from other states to assist California crews with firefighting,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, in Montana, the Elmo Fire nearly tripled in size to more than 11 square miles (about 28 km2) within a few miles of the town of Elmo.

About 200 miles (320 km) to the south, Idaho residents remained under evacuation orders as the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 67.5 square miles (174.8 km2) of forested land near the town of Salmon. It was contained at 17%.

A large accumulation of vegetation was fueling the McKinney Fire, said Tom Stokesberry, regional spokesman for the US Forest Service.

“It’s a very dangerous fire – the geography there is steep and rugged, and that particular area hasn’t burned in a while,” he said.

A small fire was also burning nearby, outside the town of Seiad, he said.

Flames from the McKinney Fire consume trees along California Highway 96 in the Klamath National Forest (Noah Berger/AP) (AP)

With lightning forecast for the next few days, resources from across California are being mobilized to help fight the area’s fires, he added.

McKinney’s explosive growth has forced crews to shift from trying to control the fire’s perimeter to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure like water tanks and power lines, and assisting with evacuations in Siskiyou County, the northernmost in California.

Deputies and law enforcement officers were knocking on the doors of the Yreka County seat and the town of Fort Jones urging residents to get out and evacuate their livestock safely to trailers. Automated calls were also sent to landline telephones as there were areas with no cell phone service.

More than 100 homes were ordered to evacuate and authorities were warning people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire caused the closure of portions of Highway 96.

The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town, while the US Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177 km) section of the trail from Mount Etna’s summit to Mount Campground. Ashland in southern Oregon.

A horse grazes as the McKinney Fire burns in Klamath National Forest, Calif. (Noah Berger/AP) (AP)

Oregon State Rep. Dacia Grayber, who is a firefighter, was camping with her husband, who is also in the fire service, near the California state line when high winds woke them up just after midnight.

The sky shone with lightning in the clouds, as ash blew over them, despite being in Oregon, about 10 miles (16 km) away. The intense heat from the blaze sent up a massive cloud of pyrocumulonimbus, which can produce its own weather system, including winds and thunderstorms, Ms Grayber said.

“It’s the worst winds I’ve ever seen and we’re used to big fires,” she said. “I thought it was going to rip the tent off the roof of our truck. We got out of there.

As they exited, they passed hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail fleeing to safety.

“The terrifying part for us was the wind speed,” she said. “It went from a fairly cool, windy night to hot, dry hurricane-force winds. Usually this happens with a fire during the day, but not at night. I hope for everyone’s sake that this is is fading, but it looks like it will get worse.

In western Montana, the wind-driven Elmo Fire forced the evacuation of homes and livestock as it ripped through grass and woods, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, based in Idaho. The agency estimated that it would take almost a month to contain the fire.

Smoke shut down part of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo due to heavy smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.

Crews from several different agencies were battling the blaze on Saturday, including the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Division. Six helicopters were making drops on the fire, aided by 22 ground engines.

Burnt vehicles and homes line Oaks Mobile Home Park in the community of Klamath River (Noah Berger/AP) (AP)

In Idaho, more than 930 wildland firefighters and support personnel were battling the Moose Fire on Saturday and protecting homes, energy infrastructure and the Highway 93 corridor, a major north-south route.

A red flag warning said the weather could make matters worse with the forecast calling for ‘dry thunderstorms’ with lightning, wind and no rain.

In Hawaii, fire crews and helicopters were battling blazes in Maui near Paia Bay on Saturday night.

The Maui County Emergency Management Agency said roads had been closed and advised residents and travelers to avoid the area. It is not known how many acres burned. A red flag warning is in effect Sunday.

Meanwhile, crews made significant progress battling another major fire in California that forced the evacuation of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The Oak Fire was 52% contained Saturday, according to an incident update from Cal Fire.

As wildfires raged across the West, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved sweeping legislation to help communities across the region cope with growing wildfires and drought serious events – fueled by climate change – that have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in recent years.

The legislation approved by federal politicians combines 49 separate bills and would increase the pay and benefits of firefighters, build resilience and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change, protect watersheds and facilitate the securing federal assistance for wildfire victims.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has sponsored a similar measure.

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