By Jessie L. Bonner Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — Firefighters gained ground on a number of wildfires across the West but struggled in southern Idaho, where winds fanned a fast-moving blaze across nearly 300 square miles of sagebrush and dry grass, authorities said Monday.
More firefighters were headed to the Idaho wildfire that was sparked by a Saturday lightning storm and had spread to 190,000 acres. The fire had been threatening six homes in the Castleford area, west of Twin Falls, early Monday but was no longer considered a threat by the afternoon.
A steady, 20 mph wind from the east has been pushing the blaze northwest, where firefighters are now focusing their efforts, officials with the Bureau of Land Management said.
“The fire has been pretty well laid down near Castleford,” said BLM spokeswoman Heather Tiel-Nelson.
Firefighters made progress in California, Utah, Wyoming Colorado and Montana, where the country’s biggest wildfire is burning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The 250,000-acre Ash Creek Fire in southeastern Montana was 90 percent contained and expected to be fully contained later Monday.
But the victory could be short-lived. Lightning, heat and 50 mph wind gusts are forecast to sweep into central and southeastern Montana later this week. Also burning in southeastern Montana was the Taylor Creek Fire, which has charred more than 62,000 acres about 12 miles southeast of Fort Howes. That fire was 65 percent contained.
In northern California, a wildfire burning near a main highway in the eastern Sierra Nevada was more than 85 percent contained.
The 1,103-acre blaze west of Highway 395 was spotted Saturday and briefly threatened about 300 homes but had no active flames early Monday. With the Inyo County area expected to see strong winds and high temperatures early this week, crews were concentrating on dousing hotspots to avoid flare-ups
Crews battling the Sites Complex Fire near the farming community of Maxwell in Colusa County were hoping to take advantage of lighter winds. The fire, which started Sunday, has consumed about 1,600 acres and was 10 percent contained.
Several miles to the west, a wildfire in the Mendocino National Forest was estimated at around 2,500 acres and led to the closure of campgrounds and the evacuation of a handful of homes early Monday. That fire was 10 percent contained.
In Utah, cooler temperatures and rain helped firefighters gain the upper hand on the state’s largest active wildfire. The 108,000-acre Clay Springs Fire in Millard and Juab counties was 91 percent contained, officials said. The weather helped crews move a string of other wildfires in Utah closer to containment.
In southern Idaho, more than 200 firefighters were working to contain the fast-moving Kinyon Road Fire that was among the largest in the nation. The wildfire had spread on the Saylor Creek bombing range, a training space operated by the Mountain Home Air Force Base, by Monday afternoon but was not threatening any structures.
More firefighters were expected to take over management of the blaze, bringing the total number of personnel to 275.
Crews had hoped to contain the blaze late Sunday when a storm cell moved in, bringing some rain but also increased winds. The region’s grass and sagebrush also have provided readily available fuel for the wildfire, which was 40 percent contained.
“The wind has been a big factor,” Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kyli Gough said. “With these light fuels being the way they are, even a small amount of wind can pick up the fire and move it pretty quickly.”
A 56-year-old man treated Sunday for a heat-related illness has been released from a Twin Falls hospital and is expected to rejoin his firefighting crew Tuesday, officials said.
Rain and cooler weather helped the fight against wildfires burning in Wyoming.
The largest of those fires was roughly 150 square miles and burning northwest of Wheatland. Rainfall over the weekend allowed firefighters to attack parts of the Arapaho fire that were previously inaccessible, and it was 75 percent contained.
In Colorado, wet conditions made Gov. John Hickenlooper confident enough to lift a statewide fire ban he ordered last month. Amid recent widespread rainfall, extreme fire conditions eased in all of Colorado’s 64 counties.
The rain, however, brought its own problems. One of the main highways to Leadville was closed after the road washed out following heavy rains that also caused a mudslide in northern Colorado. One lane was re-opened by Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a highway near the High Park burn area in northern Colorado has reopened after the third mudslide in as many days. Colorado Highway 14 in Poudre Canyon was closed for about three hours Monday morning because of a slide that was 5 feet high and 200 feet wide.
Meanwhile, authorities in Oregon are bracing for an outbreak of wildfires. The National Weather Service has issued “red flag” warnings for much of Central and Eastern Oregon, which means conditions are lined up for fires to ignite. Those conditions include lightning in the forecast and dry conditions on the ground, along with warm and windy weather.
The state has two large wildfires. A 290-acre blaze in Grant County, east of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, is about half contained, while gusty winds are pushing a 2,800-acre wildfire west of Frenchglen.