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INSPECTING P-2V TANKERS
COULD TAKE FOUR MONTHS

AUGUST 05 -- MINDEN, NV:  The inspection process for airtankers on the ground in Minden and Missoula could take four months, according to the owners of Minden Air, which means they wouldn’t be in the air until after Nevada’s fire season is over.

And keeping the two tankers owned by Minden out of service is costing money.

"We can probably hang on into the future for a while, but we need to get going," owner Leonard Parker told the Reno Gazette-Journal. But he said he's not yet considering getting out of the airtanker business.

"As time goes by, that becomes an increasing possibility," said Parker.

The Forest Service said earlier this week that they need additional documentation from Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the planes -- specifically a 1949 document that Lockheed Martin says is proprietary information. They reportedly agreed to sell the documentation to the USFS and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said Tuesday that Lockheed Martin had agreed to turn over the records.

Lockheed Martin gave Minden Air and Missoula-based Neptune Aviation estimates of what it would cost for Lockheed Martin to evaluate the aircraft and perform safety inspections for an additional fee.

"The correct path forward in our view is to accomplish a complete airworthiness assessment of those aircraft," said David Jewell with Lockheed Martin. "Such an assessment might take as much as four months or so to accomplish. It is not something that we can simply turn over."

Parker said it would cost him about $15,000 to have Lockheed Martin evaluate his two airtankers, plus additional costs for the safety assessment. But he said the cost would be an insurmountable burden.

"We’re right back in the problem that we were in before," he said. "If the Forest Service is mandating this, then they ought to step up to the bar and pay for this."

The Forest Service is expected to make a decision early next week on the airworthiness of five airtankers flown by the Oregon-based Butler Aircraft. Two of Butler's airtankers are currently flying fires under contract with the State of Oregon, but the Forest Service has said they won't be allowed to work on federal fires in the state.


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CAVE JUNCTION FIRE EVACUATES USFS OFFICES,
TWO RESIDENTS DIE

AUGUST 05 -- CAVE JUNCTION, OR:   A wind-driven fire yesterday afternoon threatened the town of Cave Junction and forced the evacuation of the Forest Service's Illinois Valley Ranger District offices.

The Mail-Tribune reported that two southern Oregon residents died in separate fire-related incidents, one caused by the Cave Junction fire and another in White City.

An elderly female hospice patient died after the fire near Cave Junction started near her home; Jerry Schaeffer, division chief with the Illinois Valley Fire Protection District, said the woman apparently died from stress related to the fire while she was being driven by her caregiver to Grants Pass.

A downed powerline leading to the woman's home was blamed for starting the fire.

A 71-year-old White City man, Floyd Charlie Worden, died after apparently trying to put out a fire that damaged the inside of his home. Deputy Fire Marshal Don Hickman with Jackson County Fire said crews went to Worden’s house at about 5 p.m. and found him collapsed in front of the home. Firefighters administered CPR before Worden was transported to the hospital. The cause of the house fire is under investigation.

Dennis Turco with the Oregon Department of Forestry said the 200-acre fire at Cave Junction was reported early in the afternoon along the Redwood Highway. A report by bend.com said winds of 20 mph with higher gusts caused the fire to jump the Illinois River at Forks State Park and head toward the town.

"It started south of Cave Junction in the area called East Forks," Turco said. Three outbuildings and a pickup were destroyed; about 200 residents were evacuated.

"It burned right up to the Forest Service compound," said Turco, "but we were able to stop it at that point." By early evening firefighters had stopped the main spread of the fire. Turco said helicopters under contract with ODF were working hot spots within the fire perimeter; state-contracted airtankers also dropped retardant.

Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and two were treated for heat exhaustion.


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USFS WORKING ON PLAN TO UPGRADE AIRTANKER FLEET

AUGUST 04 -- MISSOULA, MT:  U.S. Forest Service aviation officials say they will release a plan to modernize the nation's fleet of firefighting airtankers by the end of September.

"We want to get through this wildfire season and understand how much of the fleet will be available and for how long," said Tony Kern, USFS assistant director of aviation.

His statement came the day after the agency rejected Missoula-based Neptune Aviation's request to reinstate their contracts to operate airtankers. Neptune officials said they look forward to being a part of the new plan.

"Well that's great," Neptune president Kristen Schloemer told the Missoulian. "We plan to be part of it."

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said USFS offcials told him last month that they're considering buying Navy surplus aircraft and that the agency would retain ownership of the planes and contract with companies such as Neptune to operate them.

Neptune and Montana congressmen are pushing to get the USFS to reconsider the decision to deny Neptune's contract reinstatement. Jim Foley, aide to Senator Max Baucus, said the senator is unhappy that the USFS reinstated contracts for the P-3 tankers operated by Aero Union in California but not for Neptune -- or Minden Air out of Nevada -- both of whom operate P-2V tankers.

"It's apparent to Max that Neptune is being treated differently," Foley said. "They are holding them to a higher standard."

Kern nonetheless dismisses any notion that Neptune is being treated differently. "The vendors are being treated the same," he said. "We're not raising the bar. We're not changing requirements."


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ALMOST 100 NEW FIRES IN NORTHWEST

AUGUST 04 -- BEND, OR:  Though crews were mopping up Oregon's largest wildfire yesterday, fire managers were worrying about new fires in Washington after more lightning storms swept across the state. Full containment on the 13,539-acre Log Springs Fire on the Warm Springs Reservation is expected by tonight.

The region recorded 4,181 lightning strikes between Monday and Tuesday morning, with 95 new fires reported. Though most were under an acre, several escaped initial attack. An 1,800-acre grass fire was burning on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington, and an 80-acre fire took off along the Deschutes River near Grass Valley. Both were contained, according to an Oregonian report.

Lightning also started a 100-acre fire about two miles southeast of Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge. Over 200 firefighters, three helicopters, and several bulldozers and engines were assigned to the Panorama Fire; by last night it was 70 percent contained.

More storms were expected in eastern Washington late yesterday, but nothing like the storm that blew through on Monday.

Roger Peterson at the Northwest Coordination Center said firefighters would be watching for the potential of sleeper fires after the lightning storm, but that IA this season has been really successful. "The local crews so far this year have been very successful on initial attack and keeping those fires small," he said. "That's been the good news."

The Mill Canyon Fire 25 miles northwest of Spokane was pushed by winds and forced the evacuation of 12 homes. About 100 firefighters were assigned to the fire, which was estimated at 1,000 acres.

Erickson Air-Crane at Lake Chelan, Deep Harbor Fire

Gusts of 30 mph threw sparks across firelines at the 23,120-acre Deep Harbor Fire near Lake Chelan, starting four new fires. The fire is part of the Pot Peak Complex on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Lohrey's Type 1 team is assigned. The complex is 60 percent contained this morning at 39,110 acres.


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NEVADA FIRE BURNS WILDLIFE REFUGE

AUGUST 03 -- LAS VEGAS, NV:  A lightning-ignited wildfire in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is about 20 percent contained, and the Las Vegas Sun reported that 130 firefighters and law enforcement officers from several federal agencies were on the 400-acre fire.

The Longstreet Fire is burning on federal and private land in the refuge in rural Nye County, about 70 miles west of Las Vegas. The fire was named after a hotel and gambling hall in nearby Amargosa Valley.

The refuge is home to 12 T&E species, including birds, plants, and fish. The refuge is over 23,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands, a desert wetland ecosystem with habitat for at least 24 species found nowhere else in the world. Most depend on the isolated springs and wetlands on the refuge, and the local concentration of native species is considered to be the greatest of any area in the United States.


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LIGHTNING TOUCHES OFF FIRES NEAR COLUMBIA RIVER

AUGUST 03 -- HOOD RIVER, OR:  A 200-acre fire that was ignited by lightning yesterday is burning about two miles from the town of Hood River. David Widmark with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center told KATU-TV that the wind-driven fire burned actively overnight.

Access to the fire is difficult, and an airtanker was ordered from Redmond.

The Panorama Fire is burning in heavy second-growth slash piles and mixed oak, pine, and brush. Threat assessments are being made this morning. The fire has the potential for burning into the Mosier area; significant portions of dozer line were lost last night. A state Type 3 team has been ordered; about 50 firefighters were on the fire last night, and more are expected today.

Other small lightning fires were reported near The Dalles. The Spokane Fire Weather Office issued a Red Flag Warning for the Columbia Basin and the northeastern mountains of Washington for thunderstorms following a prolonged period of hot and dry weather. The Northwest reported heavy initial attack yesterday, with 95 new fires of about 2,500 acres recorded.

Unusually strong and gusty winds developed last evening near Spokane, and many small fires from downed powerlines were reported. Washington DNR reported three large grass fires, two for 100 acres each, and one at 50 acres. Lightning-caused fires were also reported in Klickitat County near the Columbia River. Four inches of hail was reported at Diamond Lake, Oregon.


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NO JOY IN MISSOULA

AUGUST 02 -- BOISE, IDAHO:  Federal officials this afternoon denied a request by two companies to return more large airtankers to service, saying additional information was needed on the life of the aircraft. The AP reported that the officials said they lacked information on "operational life limit" of the airtankers owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Montana, and Minden Air of Minden, Nevada.

KPAX-TV in Missoula reported this evening that it's been "an emotional roller-coaster" for Neptune employees as they've seen several deadlines on this decision come and go, delays that have been particularly frustrating as new fires take off in Montana and across the West.

Rose Davis at NIFC said Neptune has done a great job of maintaining the airtankers, but that records submitted by the tanker companies were not enough. "We don't have the stuff from when they were a young airplane to see what they've been through already," she said.

According to the Forest Service, Lockheed Martin provided a 1949 report regarding wing structure and has indicated that more historical data exists, data that could lead to a determination of operation life limit. But Davis said the information is proprietary. The NTSB report upon which the Forest Service based its decision to cancel contracts in May pointed out that the Forest Service did not have the expertise to ascertain the airworthiness of the fleet or to manage the airtanker program. But a Forest Service memo issued from NIFC today discusses fatigue life limit and operational service life as related to airworthiness. "The information on the operational life limit of the P-2Vs that is not currently available is key to determining the safety of these aircraft," says the memo.

Senator Max Baucus in Montana is calling tonight for an investigation into the Neptune safety review, saying he's not sure Neptune was treated fairly in the review process. He wants to know if Neptune was given the same consideration as others (Aero Union) who have been cleared to fly again. KTVU-TV in California reported that decisions on requests by other companies are likely in the next couple weeks, and that Davis said officials were consistent in the criteria the companies needed to meet. However, she said, operational "life limit data" will vary depending on the type of aircraft.

Today's decision does not completely "close the door" on other companies' requests to get airtankers back in service this fire season, Davis said.

Janet Parker, co-owner of Minden Air, said she's trying to be hopeful. So far, she said there have been no layoffs at the business, but it's a possibility she may soon have to consider.

"This is our livelihood," she said.


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BITTERROOT BUSY WITH IA

AUGUST 02 -- HAMILTON, MT:  A late afternoon storm yesterday officially launched fire season on the Bitterroot National Forest; lightning strikes up and down the West Fork and East Fork of the Bitterroot River ignited 23 new fires.

The largest fire, the Calf Creek Fire, was estimated at 50 acres yesterday, but KPAX-TV reported this afternoon that it had grown to 120 acres. It's two miles north of Lost Trial Pass on the Sula Ranger District, and grew to the north and east overnight. Three crews, two helicopters, water tenders, and engines are on the fire. Sue Heald, public affairs officer on the Bitterroot, told the Missoulian that crews and air support were trying to keep the fire from nearby private structures.

Highway 93 South remains open, but drivers may encounter thick smoke and caravans of firefighting equipment in the area.

A few of the other fires were staffed, including three smaller fires near the West Fork Ranger District.

Dispatchers in Missoula were inundated with reports of fire in the Missoula Valley yesterday. A 3-acre fire on Miller Peak at the edge of last summer's Cooney Ridge fire in the Sapphire Mountains was the source of all the smoke; three helicopters were assigned to the fire and worked all afternoon on it.


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SMOKEJUMPERS AND MAFFS TANKERS
HIT COLORADO FIRE

AUGUST 02 -- MONTROSE, CO:  Crews on the 4,300-acre Campbell Fire northwest of Nucla say the terrain is barely accessible; the Montrose Daily Press reported that five smokejumpers parachuted in on Friday. Maggie McCaffrey, fire information officer for the Montrose Interagency Dispatch Center, said they were sent in for structure protection.

"We know there are multiple structures," McCaffrey said. "From what I understand, none of them are permanently occupied." An AP report in the Durango Herald said dry thunderstorms yesterday pushed the fire off in a different direction. Firefighters had planned for the wind shift, but were worried about the fire spreading. It started Friday and grew from 3,800 acres on Saturday to 4,300 acres yesterday.

The Campbell is a BLM fire burning in ponderosa pine, piñon-juniper, and oakbrush. Extreme fire behavior caused by winds from local thunderstorms was reported yesterday.

The fire's at 10 percent containment and is burning within a mile of private lands, and the Montrose County Sheriff's Posse has been notifying landowners about threatened structures.

Three SEATs dropped retardant on the fire Friday and Saturday, and dozers followed an old road into the fire area to cut line. Two MAFFS units from Fort Carson were on the fire yesterday, along with 164 firefighters, five engines, two helicopters, and four SEATs. The fire's threatening several hundred head of cattle, about seven homes, and 10 outbuildings; firefighters managed to rescue most of the cattle. Officials closed portions of Third Park Road, otherwise known as Z26 Road, near Nucla.


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SIERRA A "TIME BOMB"

AUGUST 02 -- FRESNO, CA:  For residents near the Sierra National Forest, wildfires are nothing new. But fire officials say this year's fire danger is worse than usual. The combination of ongoing drought, dense brush, dry duff, and dead trees has turned the 1.3 million-acre Sierra National Forest into what an AP report called "a ticking time bomb."

"August is normally the month with the most risk for wildfires because the trees are dry and the instances of lightning are highest," says Carolyn Ballard, the fuels specialist on the Sierra. "This year, we reached August-type levels of danger in June. It really has us concerned about what the season will bring."

Jean Arteaga, a Forest Service battalion chief in charge of fire prevention, told the Fresno Bee that there's a high chance for ignition because of the low fuel moistures. Arteaga said a recent grass fire was caused by a spark from a chain that a vehicle dragged on a road.

"It's scary," says firefighter Orlando Vigil at the CDF station in Oakhurst. "Urban development and vegetation have created a nightmare for us."

On July 1 the Sierra imposed fire restrictions for high hazard areas from the foothills up to 4,000 feet elevation. Forest Supervisor Ed Cole said additional restrictions are required when conditions become extreme and the danger of wildfire increases.

Nearby national parks such as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are in the same shape. Jody Lyle, fire information officer there, said their conditions are just as bad. "Each summer, we put restrictions in place to limit where visitors can have open flames in the parks. This year, those restrictions were enacted a month earlier than last year, and next week we expect to increase the restrictions." Campfires and barbecues are limited to designated campsites, and further restrictions are expected next week.


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WASHINGTON FIRE EVACUATES 200 HOMES

JULY 31 -- ELLENSBURG, WA:  Winds pushed a fire in central Washington's Cascade foothills today, forcing officials to evacuate 200 homes; the fire destroyed four homes as it raced across 300 acres.

The AP reported that winds were at 25 mph and that the fire started near Interstate 90 between Cle Elum and Ellensburg at about noon yesterday.

The Kittitas County Daily Record reported that about 150 people in the Morrison Canyon and Thorp Prairie area were evacuated. Kittitas County Undersheriff Clay Myers told residents at an evacuation center in the Thorp School gymnasium that the destroyed homes were southwest of the Twin Lakes subdivision.

The Elk Heights Fire is 19 miles northwest of Ellensburg; it was reported just before 1 p.m. yesterday and had grown to 300 acres by 7 p.m. The fire, visible from Interstate 90 east of Elk Heights, blanketed the Kittitas Valley with smoke.

The Sunlight Waters, Elk Pond, and Twin Lakes subdivisions were evacuated, and State Route 10 was closed last night. Officials also closed both Lower Peoh Point Road and Thorp Prairie Road until further notice.

Johnson's Type 2 team has been ordered.

Washington DNR helicopters and planes worked the area hard as the fire spread from grass into dry timber and sage.

The fire reportedly started next to Thorp Prairie Road, where power transmission lines cross the roadway. A string of fires in the county have started near roadways and have been labeled as likely arson. There was a similar run of fires officials believed were arson a year ago.

The cause of this fire is under investigation; it's the fourth suspicious fire in Kittitas County this week.


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WIND-BLOWN UTAH FIRES JUMP LINES

JULY 31 -- SPANISH FORK, UTAH:  Nearly 200 firefighters are expected to arrive today to help fight a 400-acre fire that took off in Spanish Fork Canyon when winds pushed the flames into dry vegetation. The Red Bull Fire on the Uinta National Forest is about eight miles east of Spanish Fork, burning in piñon-juniper and cheatgrass.

Extreme fire behavior with short-range spotting was a problem yesterday; the fire was at 10 acres early yesterday with about 40 percent containment when the winds blew the fire past containment lines. It was estimated last night at 10 percent containment.

The Daily Herald reported that the fire was called in Thursday evening and about 40 firefighters responded. When the fire took off yesterday, though, it burned under some powerlines and blew a transformer, causing the lines to spark. Before the fire burned over the containment lines, crews from Weber Basin and Utah County were on the fire with two helicopters from the BLM and the Forest Service. Two airtankers and multiple crews were ordered after the fire took off.

Helicopters were dipping from a 6,000-gallon tank that crews had hauled up the canyon. On Thursday night, they dipped from a pond on the south side of the highway, forcing officials to stop traffic for 10-minute periods as the helicopters crossed over the roadway.

Westside Complex in UtahThe St. George Spectrum reported that the Westside Complex also jumped firelines late Thursday and by Friday afternoon had burned out of control toward the town of Enterprise.

The fire, on the Dixie National Forest, burned to within 1½ miles of Enterprise. Eight homes west of Enterprise were evacuated about 4 p.m. when the fire approached to within a mile. Two heavy airtankers and firefighters using backfires kept the fire from reaching those homes; the fire had grown to 16,000 acres by last night and is at 26,500 acres today.

The fire area, previously designated by the Forest Service's fire management plan for a prescribed burn this fall, was being managed as a Wildland Fire Use fire. But the fire escaped some of the pre-set boundaries on Thursday night. Two heavy airtankers, five helicopters, five engines, and four crews worked the Hawkins Fire yesterday; a Type 1 team will take over the fire tonight.

The 3,500-acre Pine Park Fire southwest of Enterprise will still be managed as a Fire Use fire.


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THREE MONTANA COUNTIES APPROVED
FOR NATIONAL FIRE PLAN GRANT

JULY 31 -- MISSOULA, MT:  The space in Missoula-area neighborhoods is going to get more defensible, thanks to a grant of $882,480 that was approved Thursday. The Missoulian reported that Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development received the grant from Montana's Department of Natural Resources and the National Fire Plan.

The funds will be used for "firewise" and "defensible space" projects in Missoula, Mineral, and Ravalli counties, according to Paula Rosenthal, the DNRC's National Fire Plan coordinator.

"We hope to maximize the effort on the ground to reduce the chances that wildfires will destroy more homes and property," she said. National Fire Plan money is used to fund reduction of forest fuels in areas close to communities and for projects that restore the region's historic fire-adapted ecosystems. Of $20 million available nationally, Montana's DNRC has secured $2.9 million, or nearly 15 percent of the funds.

National Fire PlanLast year on the Gallatin National Forest, funding from the NFP helped pay for a watershed rehabilitation project. Road re-contouring and rehab work after the Purdy Fire helped reduce erosion along two miles of closed road. On the Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, a fuels reduction project and prescribed burn were completed after eight years of planning and coordination. The airtanker base at the Helena Regional Airport was also expanded with NFP funding. The Holbrook Fuels Reduction Project was completed by the Tally Lake Ranger District Fire and Fuels Crew, who cleared brush and small trees around homes and the Big Mountain Ski Resort.

In addition to the Bitter Root RC&D, the state is working with Frenchtown Rural Fire District, the Bigfork Volunteer Fire Department, the Tri-County Working Group in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, and Broadwater counties, and the Northwest Regional RC&D in Lincoln, Lake, Flathead, and Sanders counties.

Details on regional projects under the NFP are online at www.fs.fed.us/r1/nfp and the National Fire Plan website is at fireplan.gov


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CENTRAL OREGON FIRE GROWING,
MAY FORCE EVACUATIONS

JULY 30 -- WARM SPRINGS, OR:  The Log Springs Fire grew to more than 10,000 acres yesterday, threatening about 40 homes in the community of Schoolie Flat as it headed east. It was within a half-mile of the area that fire managers identified as a trigger point to activate evacuations. The fire, burning since Sunday on the Warm Springs Reservation, was about 35 percent contained.

Warm Springs tribal police have warned residents of Schoolie Flat, south of Simnasho, to prepare for evacuation. Earlier Thursday, the fire was burning to the southwest, driven by winds that funneled into canyon terrain flush with standing timber, heavy dead and downed trees, and dry vegetation and grasses.

A bend.com report noted that winds on Wednesday pushed the fire and set off a spot fire on the south side of Tribal Route 9, the northern route into the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort through the small town of Simnasho. Engine crews and helicopters were working on spot fires on the southwest section of the fire, a big area of concern because of the heavy fuels and very dry conditions.

West's Type 2 team is on the fire; it's about 20 miles northwest of Warm Springs. Spotting a half-mile ahead of the fire was reported yesterday. The fire has crossed Tribal Highway 9 but the resort at Kah-Nee-Ta is accessible via Tribal Route 3 through Warm Springs.

The Oregonian reported that more than 800 firefighters are assigned.

Between July 17 and July 27, there were more than 14,000 lightning strikes in Oregon and Washington; about 400 of the strikes ignited fires, but most were contained in initial attack. More thunderstorms with dry lightning are forecast for the weekend.


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100 HOMES EVACUATED NEAR LAKE CHELAN

JULY 30 -- CHELAN, WA:  About 100 homes in central Washington were ordered evacuated today when a fast-growing wildfire grew to 10,000 acres in about 24 hours. The Deep Harbor Fire burned a dock and a picnic shelter at a campground, according to Mike Ferris, information officer on Lohrey's Type 1 team.

Fire managers and Chelan County sheriff's deputies, according to an AP report, ordered the evacuation in the Fields Point community on the south shore of the lake. Twenty-Five Mile Creek campground on the lake was also closed because of the fire. Two structures -- a picnic shelter and a boat dock -- were burned at Graham Harbor Creek campground. The fire made a run of about 2½ miles and is now threatening two more campgrounds and some homes in the Twenty Five Mile Creek area.

Barge loaded with supplies on Lake Chelan headed for fire camp

The fire was started by lightning on July 19 and had burned only 145 acres as of Thursday before it took off. It's part of a 25,845-acre complex of four fires, including the 15,500-acre Pot Peak Fire that was started June 26 by lightning. The Sisi Ridge Fire, at 345 acres, is threatening almost 100 structures. On the Sisi Ridge Fire, hotshot crews made good progress with direct line construction in steep hazardous terrain. On the Pot Peak Fire, crews are mopping up, improving fireline, and starting rehab.

Ferris said the Deep Harbor Fire is expected to merge with the Pot Peak Fire. The complex is estimated this morning at 50 percent containment.


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CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS REPEAL
RURAL FIRE PROTECTION FEE

JULY 30 -- SACRAMENTO, CA:  State lawmakers nixed a controversial fire protection fee on rural property owners yesterday, replacing the lost funds with general taxes as part of the new California state budget.

The California Farm Bureau Federation had sued over the proposed $35 per parcel annual fee to cover part of rural fire protection costs on 31 million acres of rural land. According to an AP report, CDF was working with county assessors in 56 of the state's 58 counties to collect a double fee on each parcel this winter to pay back a projected $102.5 million borrowed from the general fund to help pay firefighting costs.

The Farm Bureau and rural legislators and residents said the fee was an illegal tax that unfairly burdened rural residents for statewide fire costs.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to sign the spending plan tomorrow, after he reviews it for possible line-item vetoes.

The Senate approved the $105 billion spending plan on a 28-11 vote, a day after the Assembly voted 69-11 to pass it. The Ukiah Daily Journal reported that the budget includes funds to keep open a local California Conservation Corps center. The CCC youths help with environmental clean-ups and emergency and fire assistance. When the governor announced his budget proposal in January, the center was scheduled for closure, but that was delayed pending a final budget. The Ukiah center instead has operated at a reduced level, and new members haven't been recruited.


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CHOPPER CRASH INJURES THREE

JULY 28 -- BIEBER, CA:  A helicopter working a wildfire on the Lassen National Forest crashed Monday, injuring its pilot and two passengers. The privately owned CWN Bell 206 JetRanger went down near Bieber on a recon flight over the 3,200-acre Straylor Fire.

Ground and air resources responded to the crash site and successfully extricated all three personnel, who were transported by air and ground units to area hospitals.

One of the passengers, Bill Baxter, 50, of Redwood Valley, was listed in serious condition yesterday with a broken leg.

The other passenger, Rich Samson, was held overnight and released. The Siskiyou Daily News reported that Samson had a broken sternum. The name of the pilot, who sustained back injuries, has not been released. He is also in serious condition.

The crash occurred at around 2:30 p.m., according to the Ukiah Daily Journal. A CDF accident investigation team has been dispatched, according to the Klamath Falls Herald & News.

A dozen helicopters were working the fire yesterday; the JetRanger that crashed was on contract with the State of California.


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MONSTER SMOKE PLUME FROM B.C. FIRE

JULY 28 -- VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA:  A smoke plume put up by British Columbia's largest wildfire blocked out the sun and blanketed Vancouver and southern parts of the province yesterday; the fire's south of Tweedsmuir Park, about 320 km (199 miles) northwest of Vancouver.

The Lonesome Lake Fire, according to a report by the Toronto Star, had almost tripled in size to over 100 square km (24,710 acres) -- and fire officials said it showed no signs of slowing down.

The fire forced about 60 residents from their homes on Charlotte Lake east of Bella Coola. The fire burned an historic lodge.

Extremely hot and dry weather, plus extensive areas of bug kill, have made the fire a challenge. "This fire has an attitude and we're definitely throwing everything at it," said Nancy Argyle, a fire information officer.

The fire was ignited by lightning about a month ago, but the B.C. Forest Service decided against suppression because it wasn't threatening property. Local residents including John Edwards, 77, have criticized the decision. The lodge that his father built was burned to the ground on Sunday.


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NEVADA FIRE EVACUATES GIRL SCOUTS

JULY 27 -- MOUNT CHARLESTON, NV:  A Girl Scout camp, a campground, and a youth correctional facility were evacuated and residents ordered from more than a dozen homes because of a fast-moving fire that started in rugged hills on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The fire apparently was ignited by a flatbed truck coming down the mountain when its brakes overheated and the driver lost control. The truck rolled off the road and into brush, according to an ABC news report, and the driver was hospitalized.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the fire burned to within 1½ miles of structures.

The Robbers Fire, named after the nearby Robber's Roost hiking trail, was at 1,500 acres last night with no estimate on containment. Sexton's Type 1 team has been ordered. The fire's about 25 miles northwest of Las Vegas, with extreme fire behavior and rapid spread reported.

State Highways 157 and 158 are closed.

Crews yesterday tried to stop the fire from cresting an 11,000-foot ridge and spreading toward 350 expensive mountain homes in Kyle Canyon. About 100 kids at the Girl Scout camp and the juvenile camp were evacuated within hours. Larry Benham, the initial incident commander, said if the fire burned over into Kyle Canyon, there would be mandatory evacuations. Las Vegas police officer Jose Montoya said residents were encouraged to leave.

Mark Blankensop with the Humboldt-Toiyabe said that as a precaution authorities ordered the evacuation of people living in 15 homes in the Deer Creek subdivision. "This is the fire we didn't want," he said.


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SoCal FOREST CLOSURE

JULY 27 -- SAN BERNARDINO, CA:  Low-lying areas of the San Bernardino National Forest will be closed for months because of the extreme fire danger, probably till the end of fire season in November or December. Yesterday's closure covers tens of thousands of acres that were routinely closed during fire seasons in the 1970s.

"They're primarily chaparral areas in the foothills where fires that start would run directly up into the mountain communities," said Ruth Wenstrom with the San Bernardino. She said fast fires through drought-parched fuels just put too many resources at risk.

Campers are now prohibited from using wood and charcoal campfires anywhere in the national forest, according to an AP report, but stoves powered by propane and other liquid fuels are permitted. Visitors are also prohibited from camping outside designated campsites.

Wenstrom said mountaintop resort communities would not be affected by the closures.


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CENTRAL OREGON'S FIRST BIG FIRE OF THE SEASON

JULY 26 -- WARM SPRINGS, OR:  A fire that took off yesterday afternoon on the Warm Springs Reservation had burned to more than 2,500 acres by this afternoon; the Log Springs Fire is 25 miles north of Warm Springs on the west side of Highway 26. Ken Lydy, assistant fire management officer for Warm Springs Fire Management, said 65 residents of Simnasho were evacuated.

West's Type 2 team is assigned. Lydy told the Bend Bulletin that airtankers were ordered yesterday but were too busy to respond. The morning briefing from the Northwest Coordination Center indicated Tankers 26 and 27 were both available this morning at Moses Lake, Washington.

A bend.com report said the fire was reported at one acre around 3:30 p.m. yesterday, grew to 1,000 acres in just three hours, and was estimated at 1,500 acres by nightfall. The fire put up a plume of smoke visible from 100 miles away in Portland.

Log Springs Fire smoke plume

Central Oregon's had numerous dry lightning storms of late, but the Central Oregon Arson Task Force was activated to investigate the fire; the dispatch center noted that no lightning had been reported in the vicinity of the Log Springs Fire.

The Pendleton Fire Weather office issued a red flag warning through 4 p.m. this afternoon for wind and low relative humidities.


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NEW FIRE IN RIVERSIDE COUNTY

JULY 22 -- HEMET, CA:  The Citrus Fire east of Hemet burned out of control this afternoon in the hills near the community of Fairview, according to the North County Times, quickly growing to 300 acres, forcing road closures, and threatening several homes.

Citrus Fire plume from Red Mountain LookoutOne home was evacuated in Bautista Canyon.

One of the 350 firefighters on the fire suffered moderate burn injuries and was treated at a hospital.

The fire started near Mandarin Drive and Tangelo Avenue in the Bautista Canyon area north-northwest of Red Mountain Lookout. It was burning fast in heavy fuels and put up a smoke plume visible from the lookout.

Also this afternoon, a 40-acre fire flared up a hill in Poway in northern San Diego County, but firefighters contained it within hours.

Meanwhile, the Martin Fire that started late yesterday near Temecula had burned about 135 acres; it was 60 percent contained this afternoon with full containment expected by tomorrow morning.

The Acton Fire, which started Tuesday on the edge of the Mojave Desert, was 50 percent contained. The Foothill Fire near Santa Clarita was contained at 6,060 acres, and the 17,418-acre Pine Fire near Lake Hughes was also contained.


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DC-7 ARRIVES IN SOUTHWEST OREGON

JULY 22 -- MEDFORD, OR:  With temperatures expected to top 100º for the next few days because of a weather pattern pushing north from California into southwest Oregon, fire managers are keeping an eye on fire danger. The Oregon Department of Forestry has moved one of its state-contracted heavy airtankers from Redmond over to Medford, anticipating an increase in fire danger from high temperatures and expected thunderstorms.

"We’re already at the upper end of high," said Dennis Turco, the fire prevention officer for the ODF's southwest Oregon district. "There is a good possibility, with the dry wind, that we’ll probably be looking at going to extreme."

The east side of the state saw some lightning earlier this week. "They’re still watching that threat now," said Turco.

The Medford Mail-Tribune reported that no lightning is expected in Jackson and Josephine counties through the weekend.

The DC-7 tanker is one of two from eastern Oregon that are available to southwest Oregon; both DC-7 airtankers, Tanker 62 and Tanker 66, are operated by Butler Aircraft. The company's founder, Cal Butler, died on July 13 from complications due to pneumonia and cancer. He ran Butler Aircraft for 50 years, according to the Bend Bulletin, and in 1991 was inducted into the National Agricultural Aviation Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field. When the Forest Service canceled tanker contracts in May, more than half of Butler Aircraft workers lost their jobs.

Tankers 62 and 66 are back to work, though, under the ODF contract. T-62 is crewed by Larry Kraus and Bob Webb, and Brian Lash and Del Hunt will be flying T-66. Two other DC-6 tankers now in Alaska will be based in Medford and are expected to return from Alaska on the first of August. The state-contracted tankers can’t be used to fight fires on national forests because of a U.S. Forest Service prohibition, but they can be used in areas where national forest and state-protected lands merge.


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INVESTIGATION UNDER WAY ON
FIREFIGHTERS' CLOSE CALL ON IDAHO FIRE

JULY 21 -- SALMON, IDAHO:  Officials are investigating the circumstances that caused 20 firefighters to abandon their gear and run while working on the Cabin Creek Fire, which burned 783 acres on the Salmon Challis National Forest. The fire west of North Fork was contained today after several days of rainy weather helped with suppression efforts; the fire started on Thursday.

On Friday, before the wet weather rolled in, erratic fire behavior was a problem on the fire. A 20-person crew bulding line on a steep slope was forced to run to an uphill safety zone. Some of the crew shed their gear and tools as they ran up the mountain.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported that an after-action review team has been called in to investigate the incident.

Acting Forest Supervisor Renee Snyder said the crew had a variety of experience levels, and for some members it was their first real fire.

"Because of the reaction of the crew -- some folks were upset -- we wanted an objective review of what happened," she said.

Dispatcher Fred Batley said crewmembers told him that eight sets of fireline gear and a chainsaw were burned after being discarded. The review team is expected to make a preliminary report tomorrow.

The Cabin Creek Fire was ignited by lightning on July 15 west of North Fork, Idaho, and was burning through grass, brush, pine, and Doug-fir in extremely steep, rugged terrain. On Friday, several drops were made by SEATs and helicopters trying to cool the fire, and when fire behavior increased in the afternoon all personnel were pulled off the line into safety zones as a precautionary measure. A local Type 3 team transitioned management of the fire to Brunner's Type 2 team on Saturday.

Six hotshot crews remain on the fire today, along with four Type 2 crews, two helicopters, and four water tenders. About 285 personnel are on the fire, and yesterday the crews finished the line across the top of the fire. A number of fire vehicles were mired in the mud from Monday night's rains and required considerable effort to free them. Crews today are mopping up and patrolling for hot spots; there are several other lightning-caused fires burning in the area.


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NEW CALIFORNIA FIRES

JULY 21 -- ACTON, CA:  Gusty winds pushed a new fire toward Palmdale and the Angeles National Forest yesterday, gutting brushland near State Route 14 in Acton. The Crown Fire started early in the afternoon east of the Foothill Fire and is being managed as a combined incident called the Crown Complex.

About 175 ranches and homes were evacuated.

An AP story in the Sacramento Bee said the fire moved overnight toward houses in the Little Rock, Bell Springs, and Juniper Hills areas. Three Angeles National Forest roads were closed indefinitely, including a popular commuter route from the Antelope Valley to Los Angeles.

The Signal in Santa Clarita Valley reported that the fire burned a bridge, two outbuildings, and a trailer, and grew to 5,000 acres in about eight hours. County Fire Inspector Mike McCormick said winds were gusting to 25 mph and officials say the fire could take off if it burns into densely packed, dead conifers on the Angeles National Forest and runs east to the town of Wrightwood.

"Air attack, ground attack, every attack you can get, we're doing," said McCormick. "It's definitely a tinderbox out here."

"The priority is getting people out of the way," said Stanton Florea with the Angeles National Forest. He said that multiple large fires with extreme fire behavior are unexpected this early in the season, and the current conditions would be more usual after August. He told the Press-Telegram that the fire threatened a private animal refuge in Acton that houses 1,000 dogs and other animals.

Thirteen helicopters and five airtankers made drops on the fire yesterday, and there were 85 engines and 24 hand crews assigned. Nearly 900 firefighters were on the fire, working in 97-degree heat.


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YELLOWSTONE MUDSLIDES BURY VEHICLES

JULY 20 -- WEST YELLOWSTONE, WY:  Three vehicles were trapped and another was stranded after thunderstorms soaked a post-fire burn area and let loose mudslides that have closed the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The two biggest slides were 10 feet deep and 90 yards long.

An AP report said the slides covered about three-quarters of a mile of the East Entrance Road.

Mudslide at Yellowstone Park

Park rangers helped free 16 people after the mudslides started Sunday evening.

"I was told there was enough mud that you couldn't even read the license plates to see what state they were from," said Yellowstone employee Al Nash.

No one was injured, and the evacuated persons were transported to a resort just outside the east entrance. Park County sheriff's deputies searched the area with metal detectors and a dog.

Nash said that about 10,000 cubic feet of debris will have to be moved before they can re-open the east entrance. The slides wiped out guardrails and undercut part of the roadbed. Cleanup started this morning. "Imagine it," said Nash, "two sections of road, each as long as a football field, buried ten feet deep in mud. Cleaning this up safely will take some time."

Fires last summer burned 23,500 acres in the area and closed the entrance for about two weeks. A 2001 fire closed the gate for 11 days.


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FOOTHILL FIRE THREATENS SANTA CLARITA

JULY 19 -- SANTA CLARITA, CA:  Dry conditions and strong winds are making for a tough battle for firefighters on the Foothill Fire in northern Los Angeles County; the fire's forced thousands of people from their homes. Evacuation orders were lifted for Fair Oaks Ranch after the fire burned through the area without destroying any homes, but several hundred homes remained evacuated today in Sand and Placerita canyons.

According to an AP report, nearly 1,600 homes in Santa Clarita were evacuated since the fire started Saturday.

Foothill Fire 07/18 near Santa Clarita, California

More than 1,500 firefighters are on the 5,710-acre fire, which was 39 percent contained this morning. Cable's Type 1 team has been ordered; the fire's three miles south of Newhall, burning in chaparral and grass. Extreme fire behavior caused by high temperatures, low relative humidity, low fuel moistures, and steep terrain was a problem yesterday.

Foothill Fire smoke column on July 18The BBC news reported that shifting winds forced officials to re-order the evacuation of the Placerita and Sand Canyon areas, a day after residents there were allowed to return to their homes.

"With the winds changing, that's created a situation that's not favorable for our firefighting efforts," said Captain Mike Brown with the L.A. County Fire Department.

An evacuation center was set up in Santa Clarita. The L.A. Daily News reported that the evacuation center, at College of the Canyons, was stocked with snacks, meals, cots, and blankets, but not many residents showed up. Dozens of firefighters, however, stopped by for a meal or a nap. CDF firefighter Steven Swick visited the shelter Sunday morning after a 36-hour shift; he was diverted to Santa Clarita from the Pine Fire a few days ago.

"The fire behavior is erratic," he said, "because the winds are unstable and vegetation is so dry it burns quick and hot. It really drains you." On Saturday, Swick helped save the Walt Disney Company's Golden Oak Ranch from the Foothill Fire, including the movie sets and cattle at the ranch.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and arson is suspected. It started near Foothill Boulevard and the Antelope Valley Freeway on Saturday morning and had burned more than 4,000 acres by Sunday.

Flare-ups pushed by erratic winds prevented crews from gaining much ground overnight, despite the cooler temperatures.

The fire started on Saturday when a red-tail hawk was electrocuted by a powerline and fell to the ground. Yesterday FEMA approved a request for federal funds for the fire, one of six such requests in California during the last week.


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NEW FIRES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

JULY 18 -- LOS ANGELES, CA:  A fire that took off yesterday in the Santa Clarita foothills northwest of Los Angeles forced the evacuation of more than 100 homes and the closure of several highways; more than 750 firefighters were on the fire. Winds of 20 mph or more pushed the Foothill Fire in the Sand Canyon area and in Placerita Canyon, according to a CNN report.

The fire was reported just before noon, and was 15 percent contained at 2,100 acres by evening; an AP report put containment at 20 percent this morning. Several highways were closed. The fire's about three miles south of Newhall, burning mostly in chaparral and grass.

Another AP report this morning said officials last night lifted evacuation orders for Sand Canyon, a 100-home community. Evacuation orders were still in place, though, for Placerita Canyon and Placerita Nature Center, areas that include about 80 homes.

More than 600 firefighters are on the Foothill Fire.

Another fire burned 3,200 acres near Hemet, southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County. Capt. Rick Vogt with CDF said 2,000 people in 500 homes were evacuated ahead of the Melton Fire. At 3:30 p.m. yesterday the fire was at 5 acres burning in heavy fuels, and by 6 p.m. it was at 200 acres, with 500 structures threatened. By late evening it had grown to 3,200 acres. It's five miles south of Hemet, burning in chaparral. Firefighters said rapid rates of spread with spotting 500 feet in front of the fire were reported.

Maddy Lopez with CDF told the North County Times that the fire was started by someone shooting target practice in hills covered by dry brush. The person has been cited and will be required to pay a portion of the suppression costs.

Four airtankers were on the fire. Evacuation orders have been lifted today for about 2,000 people whose homes were in the fire's path, but about 200 homes remain threatened.

Near Lake Hughes, the Pine Fire last night was at 16,008 acres, and containment this morning is estimated at 75 percent.

Tanker 20 on the Pine Fire

The fire has forced more than 1,000 people from their homes in Lake Hughes, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles, since it started on Monday.

Increased humidity and weaker southeast winds helped firefighters yesterday, and the fire's expected to be fully contained by next Friday. Crews yesterday concentrated on the southwest corner of the fire, where the terrain is flatter and fuels are lighter. The fire was arson-caused, and has destroyed four homes, 15 outbuildings, and one motorhome.


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OREGON STRAPPED FOR MILITARY FIREFIGHTERS

JULY 17 -- SALEM, OR:  In years past, Oregon has traditionally depended on having between 500 and 700 Oregon Army National Guard firefighters available as resources across the state.

Oregon National Guard fire crew on the line in 1997But this year, the ANG can muster only 10 fire crews, or 200 people, because so many of the "weekend warrior" soldiers have been deployed to Iraq. On a tour of the state’s fire readiness resources yesterday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the federal government must be prepared to help Oregon during the fire season.

"This is a very serious fire season," Kulongoski said. "We are going to be strapped if there is a major catastrophic fire in Oregon. Relying on our federal partners is going to be a requirement."

The Salem Statesman-Journal reported that the state has experienced below-normal winter snowpack, long-term drought, an early snowmelt, and below-normal June rainfall. Combining those factors with the forecast for the next two months -- dry weather with dry lightning -- makes for an ominous situation. Add to that the diminished heavy airtanker resources and shrinkage in available Oregon National Guard crews, and the fire season's got officials in Oregon worried.

Monday’s lightning tracking system showed dozens of strikes on the western side of the state. Fire experts say the problem is usually on the drier eastern side of the state. "On the east side, in dry weather," says former state forester Jim Brown, "you can get as many as one fire from every 1,000 lightning strikes," Brown said.

A late July lightning storm in 1997 raged over Oregon, igniting fires practically everywhere in eastern Oregon, at a time when many of the Pacific Northwest fire crews and other resources were deployed to other regions of the West. Oregon was smoked in for months, and fire managers scrambled to find resources to fight the fires.

Kulongoski said he was impressed with the organization and preparedness of the Oregon Department of Forestry, but he's still worried about what the season may bring. "I think the Department of Forestry is one of the most prepared and better trained forestry departments in this country," he said. "I am always impressed with the level of readiness ... but we are going to have to rely on other states, and the federal government is going to have to step in."


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PINE FIRE EVACUATES THOUSANDS

JULY 17 -- LEBEC, CA:  Firefighters struggled yesterday to regain lost ground against a fire that's burned 15,584 acres on the Angeles National Forest, forcing the evacuation of about 1,000 people.

KABC-TV reported that winds shifted the fire away from two rural communities, but residents there have not been allowed to return yet.

Tanker 100 on the Pine Fire

CNN reported that about 500 residents were returning home to Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake when winds drove the fire away from their communities, but hundreds more remained displaced.

The fire's destroyed three houses, seven outbuildings, and a motor home. It's just under 45 percent contained, and firefighters are concerned that shifting winds could change the direction of the fire again.

According to CNN reports, the fire jumped three firelines in three days, and fire managers say winds could push the fire over a ridge into the city of Lake Hughes, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.

NBC4-TV reported that mandatory and voluntary evacuations are in effect for Lake Hughes, Elizabeth Lake, Baldwin Grade Canyon, Pine Canyon, Meenach, Three Points, Tweedy Lake, Portal Ridge Road and Kings Canyon Ranch. The Red Cross has set up shelters in Lancaster.

About 1,800 federal, state, and local firefighters on the fire.

A Sacramento Bee report said officials are searching for an arsonist suspected of setting the fire.


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PARTYING TEENS MAY HAVE STARTED NEVADA FIRE

JULY 17 -- CARSON CITY, NV:  Firefighters saved more homes from burning yesterday on the 7,566-acre Waterfall Fire near Carson City, and investigators are thinking that partying teenagers may have caused the fire.

Helped out by slightly cooler and less gusty weather, airtankers and helicopters dumped millions of gallons of water and retardant on the wildfire, according to the Sacramento Bee, and crews were trying to keep the fire from burning into two woodland residential areas -- Lakeview and Timberline.

"We are trying to keep the fire from burning into Lake Tahoe State Park and Washoe County," said Pat Irwin with the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center. "The aircraft are pounding the northwest corner of the fire."

The fire started early Wednesday in a scenic canyon that is a popular party spot for local youths. The area has no legal fire pit, and it's the source of about 100 law enforcement calls every year. Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said officers last week arrested several people who were lighting fireworks near the waterfall there. Now, officials are trying to find as many as 20 teens reported in the area just before the fire was ignited.

Scores of evacuated residents tried to return to their neighborhoods yesterday; some found only rubble and ash. At the entrance to one neighborhood, sheriff's Deputy Jarrod Adams spent most of the day saying no to people who wanted to return to homes still threatened by flames. "It's a drag telling people, 'I don't know if you have a house, and you can't look at it,'" he said.

One local man was arrested Friday after driving past a barricade and scuffling with a deputy who tried to stop him from reaching his home.

The fire was about 50 percent contained last night. Martin's Type 1 team is on the fire, about three miles west of Carson City. Extreme fire behavior was a problem yesterday, with torching and spotting up to a quarter mile.

The fire's about 20 miles south of Reno and eight miles from the rim of Lake Tahoe. Fourteen homes, one commercial building, and 25 outbuildings have burned, and 1,000 homes, 75 commercial buildings, and 100 outbuildings are still threatened. More than 1,900 firefighters, 123 engines, and 26 aircraft are on the fire.


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YOSEMITE TOURISTS CLOAKED IN SMOKE

JULY 16 -- LEBEC, CA:  The Meadow Fire in Yosemite National Park continued to spread yesterday, closing popular trails, filling the valley with smoke, and showering coatings of ash onto parked cars.

Yosemite Valley smoked in"It looks pretty cloudy and dark around here, not like it does on the postcards," said Sam Burgess, an 11-year-old tourist from Sydney, Australia, who was camping with his parents.

The fire was at 1,700 acres yesterday, and crews made progress building fireline along the north and west flanks. Smoke is still thick in the night and early morning hours in Yosemite Valley.

KCRA-TV reported that the fire almost doubled in size in the past 24 hours, and was estimated this morning at 3,000 acres.

Crews are working to contain the fire on its northern and western sides, but the fire's being allowed to burn toward the south and east for resource benefits in those areas.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the road to Glacier Point was closed, along with hiking trails to Half Dome and Little Yosemite Valley. The Four Mile Trail from the valley floor to Glacier Point and the backpackers' camp at Little Yosemite Valley also are closed.


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NEW WASHINGTON FIRE BURNS 900 ACRES

JULY 16 -- LEAVENWORTH, WA:  A lightning-lit fire yesterday west of Leavenworth had grown to 900 acres by evening, burning in the Icicle Creek drainage of the Washington Cascades. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Chelan County sheriff's deputies were contacting people in campgrounds, advising them of the fire, and giving them an opportunity to leave.

The Icicle Fire was ignited at an elevation of about 5,000 feet and was moving downhill. KIRO-TV reported that the fire is burning in ponderosa pine and light grass and that two helicopters are on the fire today.

The Seattle Times reported that three lightning strikes ignited three fires around 4:30 p.m. and that by early evening the fires had merged on the south side of Icicle Road. Firefighters think the fire may jump to the north side of the road.

The Northwest Coordination Center reported this morning that there are cabins and campgrounds in the area, and a Level 2 evacuation alert is in effect, advising residents in the area to leave the area. Bennett's Type 1 team is committed.


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CALIFORNIA FIRE CHASES
600 FROM THEIR HOMES

JULY 16 -- LEBEC, CA:  A 10,290-acre wildfire is threatening rural communities on the edge of the Angeles National Forest and has forced 600 people to evacuate. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations are in effect for Lake Hughes, Elizabeth Lake, Baldwin Grade Canyon, Pine Canyon, Meenach, Three Points, Tweedy Lake, Portal Ridge Road and Kings Canyon Ranch.

More than 200 teenagers were evacuated from two Los Angeles County juvenile probation camps yesterday afternoon when the fire burned to within a couple miles. They were transported to a camp in Lancaster.

The Pine Fire was at 40 percent containment last night. A unified command has been established between Gelobter's Type 1 team and the L.A. County Fire Department. The fire's burning in heavy brush southeast of Lebec.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the fire destroyed at least one motorhome and a building since it started Monday. Two firefighters suffered heat-related illnesses, and another was killed earlier this week in a vehicle crash as he drove home from the fire.

Smoke from the fire drifted 60 miles to the south, and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services issued an "extreme caution advisory" for people with heart and respiratory ailments.


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FIREFIGHTERS AND REPORTER
INJURED ON NEVADA FIRE

JULY 15 -- CARSON CITY, NV:  The Waterfall Fire burned at least six luxury homes to the ground yesterday and advanced to within a half mile of the governor's mansion. The fire, zero percent contained last night at 2,000 acres, is on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about three miles west of Carson City.

Erratic winds drove the fire in all directions throughout the day, evacuating subdivisions along the west side of Carson City. Voluntary evacuations are in effect in other areas.

Four firefighters and a television reporter were injured, according to an ABC news report; ten other homes, businesses, and outbuildings were destroyed, and about 550 more were threatened.

Scheuerman's Type 2 team is on the fire, and Martin's Type 1 team has been ordered. The fire's burning in timber with litter understory and brush, and extreme fire behavior was a problem. The fire was reportedly started early yesterday morning by a person near a waterfall on a creek popular with local youths.

U.S. Highway 395 was temporarily closed, and firefighters had to pull away from homes in some areas because of the intensity of the fire. Scott Huntley with the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center said winds were gusting to 30 mph.

One firefighter broke a leg, another suffered back and neck injuries, and two others were burned. One of the burned firefighters was with a crew trapped briefly when the fire overran their position and destroyed their engine. Reporter John Tyson of KOLO-TV in Reno suffered minor burns on his hands and face. His vehicle was destroyed, along with an ambulance.


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8,500-ACRE CALIFORNIA FIRE
STARTED BY BOTTLE ROCKETS

JULY 14 -- SAN DIEGO, CA:  An incoming weather system might help firefighters who are fighting a huge fire that took off yesterday in the mountains near Lake Henshaw. More than 1,200 firefighters were working in 90º weather this afternoon, on a fire that's burning in steep, mostly inaccessible terrain; the National Weather Service forecast includes a flash flood warning for the mountains and deserts that's in effect until 8 p.m.

The Mataguay Fire is south of Ranchita burning in chaparral and grass. It began as three separate blazes along state Route 79 just after noon yesterday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. A Border Patrol agent and a state Fish and Game warden came upon the first fire and tried to put it out, then saw a second small fire about 300 yards north of them and tried to put that one out too. But both were spreading too quickly. A third fire was found about 1½ miles to the north.

All three were "maliciously set with bottle rockets," according to CDF Battalion Chief Mike Neill.

Winds pushed the fire to the east, threatening the Mataguay Boy Scout Camp. Firefighters and sheriff's deputies decided to evacuate the camp, but decided the exit road was too hazardous. People at the camp were sheltered there, then sent in a convoy to a high school about eight miles away.

The fire was almost 70 percent contained this morning and full containment was predicted for this evening.

Four firefighters incurred minor injuries.

The fire destroyed two outbuildings yesterday; residents evacuated from Ranchita were allowed to return home last night.

Crews on the fire were assisted by four airtankers, seven helicopters, 10 bulldozers, and seven water tenders. The Mataguay Fire is the largest in the county since October's devastating Cedar fire, which killed 15 people, burned 273,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.


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FIRE SMOKES UP YOSEMITE

JULY 14 -- RENO, NV:  A fire that was ignited by lightning two weeks ago in the southern part of Yosemite National Park grew from 200 acres to over 1,300 acres yesterday, putting up smoke that was visible from Reno. Tom Nichols, fire management officer at the park, said the fire started south of Glacier Point and has thus far been allowed to burn. The Meadow Fire was at 30 acres Sunday, but low humidity and an early snowmelt contributed to yesterday's rapid growth.

Map of 11 Yosemite firesThe park has 51 firefighters and one helicopter on the fire, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. A Fire Use Management Team has been ordered, along with two hotshot crews, two Type 2 crews, a Type 3 strike team, and another helicopter.

The fire is burning in red fir and lodgepole seven miles southeast of Yosemite Village.

Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson closed Glacier Point Road, and backpackers in the Little Yosemite Valley might be asked to leave the area. Visitors can call (209)372-0200 for current status of the Glacier Point Road. All trails and trail junctions entering the wilderness on the Glacier Point Road heading to Lower Merced Pass and the Buena Vista Lakes area have been closed, along with Mono Meadow Trailhead, the Panorama Trail between Glacier Point and Nevada Fall, the John Muir Trail above Nevada Fall to Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, Four Mile Trail, the trail between Bunnell Cascades and Little Yosemite Valley, trails between Sunrise Lakes and Little Yosemite Valley (junction at Clouds Rest), and trails between Cathedral Lakes and Little Yosemite Valley area. For current updates on closures, call (209)372-0491.

The Little Yosemite Valley Backpackers Campground was evacuated today as a precautionary measure.

The fire's being managed for resource benefit and won't be actively suppressed unless it burns out of designated boundaries. Aggressive containment action will be taken, however, on the northern flank to prevent further spread toward the Glacier Point Road and the Yosemite Valley southern rim.

The U.S. Forest Service in California recently suspended "wildland fire use" or management of a fire for resource benefits, but the National Park Service has not done so. Fire use is a key part of management at Yosemite; there are currently 11 active lightning-ignited fires burning in the park. There's a live view of Yosemite Valley online courtesy of the Yosemite Association.


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CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS EVACUATED

JULY 13 -- PALM SPRINGS, CA:  Wildfires that have burned over 8,400 acres have forced the evacuation of dozens of homes in southern California, along with two campground evacuations near Palm Springs.

Soaring temperatures and dry conditions are making the firefighting difficult; three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion yesterday on a 5,000-acre fire on the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest. The Verbenia Fire, currently managed by McCormick's Type 2 team, is 10 miles northwest of Palm Springs, burning in grass and chaparral. It was 25 percent contained last night at 4,000 acres.

Temperatures in the Riverside County area are expected to top 100 degrees today, according to an AP report.

The Gatos Fire northwest of Coalinga is at 750 acres, and the Peterson Fire northeast of Fresno was at 150 acres last night. Extreme fire behavior was a problem yesterday on both fires.

Southeast of Lebec, the Pine Fire is burning in heavy brush, also with extreme fire behavior. It was 20 percent contained last night at 300 acres.

ABC news reported that the Peterson Fire is threatening homes and forcing evacuations near Shaver Lake. Firefighters hope to have the fire contained later today, but said a change in weather could push the fire out of control. The fire was accidentally ignited by a homeowner using welding equipment, according to CDF personnel.

The Desert Sun reported that the Verbenia Fire above Snow Creek Village had more than 800 firefighters on it. "Firefighters won the battle for Snow Creek Village in the back yards and side roads of the community Sunday night," said the report. "But temperatures that reached 110 degrees, thick clumps of tinder-dry brush and near-zero humidity fed the fire that leaped to 5,000 acres on its march up Fuller Ridge."

Winds that frustrated firefighters also pushed layers of thick smoke into the Coachella Valley, prompting calls to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

"We’ve gotten a few calls regarding it -- whether we would shut down or not -- but we’ll keep operating as long as it’s safe," said Lena Zimmerschied, the tramway’s public affairs manager.

The tramway has a live webcam online.

Riverside County fire and federal hotshot crews joined state inmate crews and engines from Redlands and Hemet, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. Mic Bernal, who runs an inmate crew based Palmdale, said two of his men had to be carried off the ridge, overcome by the heat.

"We’ve got crews on top trying to get an anchor on it," he said. "But it made a run up the canyon and got enough ash that it jumped the other side. It was just flash fire."

In northern Los Angeles County, a 3,400-acre fire near Lake Hughes on the Angeles National Forest was 20 percent contained early today. That fire caused the mandatory evacuation of 10 homes in the Happy Valley area shortly after midnight. Another two dozen homes nearby were on voluntary evacuation earlier yesterday.

The fire had burned into thick forest that hasn't burned in 75 years, according to the county fire department.


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OLTROGGE'S TEAM HANDING OVER NUTTALL

JULY 13 -- SAFFORD, AZ:  Firefighters are still hunting down hot spots along the perimeter of the Nuttall Complex southwest of Safford, and mop-up and rehab are under way on the fire, which is 75 percent contained.

Fire on Heliograph Peak 07/06/04Oltrogge's Type 1 team will hand off the complex to Winchester's Type 2 team this evening.

Light afternoon rains fell over much of the fire area yesterday; Eric Peterson, a meteorologist assigned to the incident, said most of the precipitation was south of the burn area, and hail fell near Clark Peak.

The most intense fire behavior was within the fire’s perimeter in the Heliograph Peak area, where less rain has fallen and the higher humidity levels have not been as effective at tempering fire activity. Fire burned through the Heliograph Peak area on July 6, damanging some structures and compromising communications functions.

Most of the observed fire behavior yesterday was minor surface spread, with the fires creeping and smoldering. The most intense burning occurred in heavy logs and stumps.

The incoming Type 2 team will reassess the opening of the Swift Trail Road (U.S. Highway 366) and associated developed areas. Nearly 700 personnel are still on the fire, including 12 hotshot crews, six helicopters, 20 engines, 16 water tenders, and four dozers.

The complex includes the Nuttall Fire, started by lightning on June 26, and the Gibson Fire, which was ignited by lightning on June 22. The complex is at 29,200 acres today; it destroyed one structure and damaged another. Firefighters sustained 28 injuries during the course of the fire; most were heat-related illnesses.

Oltrogge's team has an excellent incident website online, including photo galleries, progression maps, and even an airtanker slide show.


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MEDICAL HELICOPTER CRASH KILLS FOUR

JULY 13 -- COLUMBIA, SC:  A medical helicopter transporting a woman injured in a minor accident crashed early this morning in South Carolina, killing her and the three crew aboard. The crash occurred about 6 a.m., according to an AP report, in a heavily wooded area just off Interstate 26. Besides the injured passenger, the pilot, a flight nurse, and paramedic were also killed.

Newberry County Emergency Medical Services had requested the helicopter for a pedestrian who was reportedly injured in a minor hit and run at a rest stop. A state trooper and a truck driver watched the helicopter take off.

"When it got above the trees, we heard a boom and we didn't see it again," said trucker Johnny Williamson. The helicopter was found about a mile from the road in a wooded area on U.S. Forest Service land. The National Incident Notification Network reported that foggy conditions were present across much of the area this morning, but it wasn't known whether fog was a factor in the crash.

Investigators from the NTSB and FAA are en route.


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CREWS STRUGGLE IN HEAT ON FIRE NEAR PALM SPRINGS

JULY 12 -- PALM SPRINGS, CA:  Steep terrain and high temperatures are making it difficult for firefighters to contain a fire that started yesterday afternoon in the Cabazon area; the Verbenia Fire was about 40 percent contained this morning at 1,500 acres.

Last night the fire was holding at 400 acres, with three airtankers, two helitankers, and seven helicopters assigned. The sandiegochannel.com reported that temperatures early this morning were nearing 90º and winds were gusting to 23 mph. Predicted high for today was 113º and early this afternoon Palm Springs reported 107º with RH at 25 percent.

More than 360 firefighters were on the fire in the Snow Creek area at the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest near Palm Springs.

The Gatos Fire northwest of Coalinga was zero percent contained last night at 400 acres. Containment was expected for today, despite extreme fire behavior caused by high temperatures and low relative humidity.