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Light rain helps fight some Northwest wildfires

Created: 08/13/2014 4:21 PM
By: JEFF BARNARD

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Light rain and cooler temperatures Wednesday helped dampen explosive wildfires in Northern California and southwestern Oregon that were threatening more than 1,000 scattered rural homes.

But the relief came only after some dicey moments Tuesday afternoon when thunderstorms blew through with erratic winds that fanned flames.

No homes were reported lost.

In southwestern Oregon, fire spokesman Don Hickman said a thunderstorm blowing over the Rogue River Drive fire Tuesday afternoon near Shady Cove pushed it out of containment lines. Eight helicopters lined up to dip water from the Rogue River one after the other, three air tankers dropped pink loads of fire retardant, and bulldozers cut fire lines to protect homes and head off the advancing flames.

By Wednesday morning the rain and cool temperatures had calmed down the fire, and none of the 130 homes and outbuildings was lost, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported.

"They're probably doing the happy dance right now," said Hickman.

In Northern California, two fires on the Klamath National Forest near Yreka grew by a total of 10 square miles Tuesday, but the changing weather Wednesday slowed them down.

"The fuels have been so dry and the drought so persistent, conditions are unprecedented from anything we have ever seen," fire spokeswoman Kerry Greene said. Fires were growing faster than fire behavior models were predicting.

The Whites fire grew to 38 square miles and continued to threaten 750 homes scattered up and down the Salmon River, particularly near the community of Sawyer's Bar. Crews were stationed around homes to protect them, Greene said.

The Beaver fire grew to 50 square miles, but most of the growth was from firefighters intentionally burning to strengthen fire lines. Some homes along the Klamath River west of Interstate 5 were under evacuation, but Highway 96 was open.

Lightning strikes ignited 20 small fires near Happy Camp, a small logging and gold mining town on the Klamath River. They grew to a total of 400 acres.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms moved across the Cascade Range into central Oregon and eastern Washington. Forecasters reported the threat of lightning would diminish over the next three days and moister air would reduce the potential for big new fires.

In Washington, the Okanogan County sheriff's office said two men were arrested for investigation of arson for setting back burns in an unauthorized attempt to stop the advance of wildfires. Larry D. Smith, 63, and Keith V. Strickland, 60, both of Twisp, were jailed.

In northern Idaho, evacuation orders went out to residents and campers along the Clearwater and Selway rivers due to a wildfire burning in timber. Fire spokesman Pat McKelvey said the 9-square-mile Johnson Bar Fire had reached the Selway River and was about a mile east of the Clearwater.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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