Crews gain upper hand against wildfires

  • Thu Aug 23rd, 2012 2:43pm
  • News

By Jeff Barnard Associated Press

MINERAL, Calif. — Twisted sheets of metal, the hulks of pickup trucks and brick walls were all that was left of homes once sheltered by green pine and cedar trees.

In a rural Northern California subdivision that was the latest to feel the wrath of massive western wildfires, long pine needles bent back on themselves, unburned but dried to a brittle dusty gray by the intense heat of the Ponderosa fire.

Thousands of residents of tiny rural communities just outside Lassen Volcanic National Park who had been forced to flee soon after the fire was ignited by lighting Saturday were allowed to return home Wednesday.

While the fire was 57 percent contained, with full containment forecast for early next week, 900 other homes were threatened Thursday as the fire burned a new front to the south.

Don Camp, a state fire spokesman, said 64 residences have been destroyed mostly in the Manton area. More than 2,100 firefighters were at the scene.

The blaze had grown to 44 square miles in the hills about 25 miles southeast of Redding.

“All our efforts are focused on keeping the fire out of the park,” Camp said.

Bob Folsom, who works at a nearby hydroelectric facility, tended the gasoline generator that was keeping his refrigerator running while utility crews worked to replace power lines destroyed by the blaze when it roared through the area last weekend.

“I was ready for this day,” he said. “I try to be self-sufficient.”

Folsom and his son never left their home as the fire burned within a half mile of them last weekend, close enough that they heard trees exploding and the flames roaring like a freight train. Over the past 10 years, they had thinned hundreds of trees, dug a pond to store water, and installed hydrants to fill fire hoses.

“When it comes through, it’s gonna come fast,” he said. “You don’t have time to cut down trees.”

Also in California, a large wildfire in Plumas National Forest continued to expand, helped by gusty winds. The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed 99 square miles since it started at the end of July and threatens about 900 homes. It was 40 percent contained Thursday.

Wildfires also continued burning elsewhere in the West.

In Washington state, fire crews still hoped to fully contain a week-old wildfire that has destroyed 51 homes and 26 outbuildings and damaged at least six other homes, authorities said.

The fire has caused an estimated $8.3 million in property damage.

In central Idaho, firefighters started a burnout operation near the town of Featherville to deny an approaching wildfire the fuel it would need to reach hundreds of homes that were evacuated last weekend.

Fire managers said favorable weather conditions allowed them start lighting ignitions late Wednesday to burn and remove vegetation that could have served as fuel for the massive Trinity Ridge Fire, which has charred 164 square miles.

As of early Thursday, the operation to create a buffer around the town of Featherville had so far been successful and was expected to continue. The area was evacuated Saturday due to heavy smoke from the Trinity Ridge Fire.

The cost of fighting the wildfire is now estimated at $15.6 million.

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