California wildfire grows as lull ends at Glacier park blaze

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A growing wildfire west of Yosemite National Park forced people from their homes Thursday in nine small California communities and damaged an aqueduct, curtailing water supplies.

In Montana, nearly two days of cool, wet weather gave way to rising winds and falling humidity late Thursday, ending the brief lull firefighters enjoyed in their battle to corral a 64,000-acre fire in northwestern Montana.

Fire managers warned the fire remained dangerous although rain on Wednesday and thick fog and humidity Thursday morning had brought it almost to a standstill. It has burned 15,000 acres in the west side of Glacier National Park.

Forty-one buildings — some homes, mostly summer cabins and one store — were still considered threatened, but fire managers said chances of the fire reaching them were low.

More than 1,000 firefighters are trying to control the blaze, which was started by lightning on Aug. 14.

Elsewhere in Montana, rain fell until Thursday afternoon at the Lost Fork/Monarch blaze in the Lewis and Clark National Forest south of Great Falls. Some firefighting crews were released after the rain, which District Ranger Mike Herrin said was about 0.6 inch, helped ease the emergency.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported 12 major fires burning on more than 203,000 acres Thursday. But the center said eight major fires were contained Wednesday. Several of the others were nearing containment, and cooler temperatures and rain were expected in several western states.

The northern California fire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon, had charred about 1,850 acres of heavy brush and timber about two miles from Hathaway Pines, a small community 25 miles northwest of Yosemite.

About 150 homes were evacuated Wednesday and more were on alert for possible evacuation. At least 60 people spent the night at a shelter set up at an elementary school.

"It was a 4-in-the-morning, grab-the-dog-and-go type of thing," said Kelly Osborn, principal of Albert Michelson Elementary School in Murphys, Calif.

The wildfire destroyed part of an aqueduct that provides water to four communities — Angels, Vallecito, Douglas Flat and Murphys — leaving residents with an estimated two-day supply of water, officials said. They were advised to limit water use.

Retired nurse Marie Heimback was evacuated Wednesday afternoon from her home in Sunrise Point. "I was looking out of the window and saw smoke coming down the canyon," she said. "Then the fire department came by and gave me 10 minutes to pack a few things."

Twelve-year-old Hilary Schwartz hurriedly left her Forest Meadows home with her family under a glowing and smoky sky. They managed to grab some personal belongings and their pets — two dogs, two cats, a bird and a hamster.

About 820 firefighters dug into steep, rocky terrain, using bulldozers, chainsaws and shovels to strip away heavy brush and cut down trees to make a line around the fire. The blaze was 10 percent contained Thursday afternoon, said Ben Hector, fire information officer for the Forestry Department.

Also in the region, a 12,730-acre fire, 16 miles west of Lake Tahoe was nearing containment.

Authorities said a smaller wildfire north of Sacramento forced evacuations Thursday morning of more than 100 homes in sparsely populated Yankee Hill. The Poe Fire has burned more than 1,200 acres.

A bulldozer operator was injured and airlifted from the blaze. The fire also destroyed three structures, including one house.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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