Big Oregon Wildfire Latest In West Commanding Attention

By: AP/CBS (Posted by Chris Fisher)
By: AP/CBS (Posted by Chris Fisher)

(CBS) -- Strong winds in the Columbia River Gorge fanned an Oregon wildfire burning across nearly 8 square miles, forcing the evacuation of dozens of structures Monday while other residents waited to hear if they were going to have to leave.

The Government Flats Complex of fires was burning in hilly country near The Dalles, a Columbia River city that's a favorite hangout for windsurfers. Officials said about 55 structures were ordered evacuated. It wasn't clear how many of those were homes.

The wildfire was the latest to grab the attention of regional fire crews as hot, dry weather persists across the West - and was one of 49 large fires burning in 11 Western states as of Monday night, reports CBS news correspondent John Blackstone.

In Idaho, authorities slowly were allowing evacuees to return to homes that days ago were deemed at risk from a big and erratic wildfire burning near the affluent resort towns of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, while other residents were being told they should be ready to evacuate on short notice.

The Blaine County sheriff ended the mandatory evacuation order for up to 250 homes. Most of those residences are in subdivisions on the east side of the main highway connecting these communities and are farthest from the 160-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire, ignited by lightning Aug. 7.

The fire has been fast moving and unpredictable and has burned across much of a part of Idaho famous for its scenery and known as a playground for the rich and famous, Blackstone observes.

About 1,150 firefighters, including elite teams known as Hotshots, looked to reinforce fire lines with the help of 14 helicopters and likely other aircraft. The fire was about 8 percent contained.

In Northern California, erratic winds fanned a wildfire that threatened more than 300 structures in rural Butte County. But the hundreds who evacuated from homes over the weekend were allowed to return as containment lines expanded.

The 3-square-mile fire just outside Bangor was 64 percent contained. So far, one residence, a garage and three outbuildings have been destroyed since the blaze broke out Friday, said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Another wildfire on Monday forced the shutdown of a highway that serves as a busy gateway to Yosemite National Park.

The wildfire in the Stanislaus National Forest crossed State Route 120, shutting down the roadway in both directions. No westbound traffic was being allowed out of Yosemite, and people trying to get in were being told to use alternate routes.

In Montana, two lightning-caused fires burning west of the community of Lolo grew rapidly Monday, burning homes and leading authorities to issue evacuation notices and warnings to residents to be ready to flee.

Firefighters confirmed that homes had been damaged, but they were not immediately able to verify how many, the Missoulian reported.

Voluntary evacuations were in effect and homeowners in the Bear Creek area were given notice to be ready to flee if the fire spreads. Lolo is about 20 miles southwest of Missoula, Mont.

In Utah, fire officials lifted an evacuation Monday for about 100 residents in Rockport Estates and Rockport Ranches in Summit County, about 45 miles east of Salt Lake City.

They had been displaced since Tuesday when lightning ignited a fast-moving blaze that burned seven houses and one yurt in those subdivisions. The 3.1-square-mile fire was 90 percent contained.

Utah's biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire southwest of Salt Lake City, was 45 percent contained. The 50-square-mile blaze hasn't grown since Saturday.

The Columbia River Gorge is known for its strong winds — which is why it is a favorite among windsurfers and kiteboarders — and on Monday those winds fanned the Government Flats Complex of fires burning south of The Dalles.

Dozens of homeowners had been told to prepare for evacuation.

"It's a very flammable fuel right now, because it's been dried with lack of moisture, and it's also been heated from the heat coming up the slope," said fire supervisor Kelly Niles, overlooking a charred grassy field. "This stuff, here it's just ready to explode."

The Government Flats fire complex was 10 percent contained as of late Monday. One of two structures that burned Sunday had been used as a residence, fire spokesman David Morman said Monday.

One resident, 74-year-old Jake Grossmiller, packed up some photos, valuables and clothes for several days in case the evacuation order came.

He set up a sprinkler in his front yard and kept an eye on the smoke rising behind the hills.

"I'm feeling pretty safe," he said.


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