updated 8/24/2006 8:18:37 AM ET 2006-08-24T12:18:37

Red flag warnings were posted for wide areas of the Northwest on Wednesday, indicating extreme fire danger as crews battled spreading wildfires.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a statewide wildfire emergency, citing the major fires already burning and the potential for more blazes as weather forecasters predicted thunderstorms, high wind and low humidity.

“It’s very rugged terrain,” Gregoire said after a helicopter tour of the state’s largest fire, which had burned across 200 square miles. “The firefighters go in and put up a line, and the fire will jump a mile over the line. ... We’re just hoping now the weather cooperates.”

The declaration allows state agencies to spend money and resources to help local jurisdictions fight wildfires.

Meanwhile, a group of wind-driven fires near Dayton in southeast Washington doubled in size in about 24 hours to nearly 40 square miles.

Thirty-five residents evacuated from a nursing home were allowed to return because the smoke had cleared, and some residents of 200 evacuated homes also came back, said Ray Steiger, information officer at the fire complex.

But residents of dozens of homes near the Coppei River south of Waitsburg, some on pricey 5-acre lots, and some people living along the Tucannon River were warned to be ready to evacuate.

Red flag warnings or fire weather watches also were posted for parts of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah, the National Fire Information Center said.

Evacuation orders
An evacuation order was issued Wednesday for 25 to 30 homes in a subdivision east of Billings, Mont., as a nearby wildfire grew to more than 7 square miles, said Mary Apple, fire information officer with the Billings Dispatch Center. The blaze destroyed two homes, a barn and several outbuildings Tuesday.

The fire, fueled by timber and grass, was reported Tuesday morning; the cause was not yet known. An evacuation order for another 192 homes remained in place.

In California, a fire that had burned 480 acres, or about three-quarters of a square mile, forced the closure of trails to the summit of El Capitan, one of the best-known granite monuments that tower over the Yosemite Valley.

The fire, which started Monday, was believed to have been accidentally set by humans. It was about 30 percent contained Wednesday.

North of Reno, Nev., a vehicle struck a wall during a police training exercise Wednesday and sparked a 50-acre brush file that destroyed several vehicles and sheds.

In Nevada’s Elko County, a week’s worth of fires had blackened more than 360 square miles. The largest active fire burned nearly 36 square miles, including three cabins, a trailer and an outbuilding.

In Utah, a firefighter who was killed battling a blaze in the Fishlake National Forest was taken to the cemetery on a fire truck Wednesday.

More than 1,000 people, including Gov. Jon Huntsman, came to the funeral for Spencer Koyle, 33, who died Aug. 17. He was scouting a fire when it suddenly trapped him, authorities said.

“There were a lot of tears,” said Susan Marzec, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman.

The fire continued to burn Wednesday about 15 miles north of the funeral in Holden. It covered nearly 8,000 acres, or 12½ square miles, and was 15 percent contained.

So far this year, wildfires have blackened 6.8 million acres, or 10,600 square miles, compared to 6.7 million acres at this same time last year, the center said.

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