Video: Raging wildfires

updated 9/14/2006 8:02:12 AM ET 2006-09-14T12:02:12

A wildfire in an area peppered with property owned by celebrities nearly doubled in size Wednesday, prompting evacuation orders for about 325 homes.

The fire was estimated at 18,845 acres, or about 29 square miles, information officer Al Nash said. It had been reported at 9,360 acres, or about 15 square miles, the night before.

“It’s not a surprise that the fire has become much more active as the day heated up and the winds picked up,” Nash said.

Residents of about 275 homes in Sweet Grass County and 50 homes in Park County were told to evacuate, officials said.

Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw and several other celebrities have homes in the area. Brokaw said in a telephone interview from New York that his property was under a “pre-evacuation notice,” in which residents are cautioned to be ready to evacuate.

“It’s not our first fire, but it’s probably the closest fire,” Brokaw said. “And it’s easily the worst we’ve been through.”

The fire, started by lightning Aug. 25, is on the West Boulder River about 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

Creeping toward Canada
Elsewhere Wednesday, a 270-square mile fire in Washington crept toward the Canadian border. Both U.S. and Canadian crews were fighting the Tripod fire, which was less than a quarter-mile south of the border at its northern flank. More than 1,400 firefighters were on the scene.

In southern California, firefighters guarded a mobile home park as erratic winds drove a 43-square-mile wildfire in Los Padres National Forest. They also tried to keep it from jumping Interstate 5. The blaze was 30 percent contained.

Wildfires across the country have scorched more land in 2006 than in any year since at least 1960, burning an area twice the size of New Jersey.

But the flames have mainly raced across sparsely populated desert, causing fewer firefighter deaths than in previous years.

45-year high
As of Wednesday, blazes in 2006 had torched 8.69 million acres, or 13,584 square miles, just above last year’s total of 13,573 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Reliable records were not kept before 1960, officials said. The annual average over the past 10 years is 4.9 million acres.

Federal officials attributed the increase to two consecutive seasons of hot and dry weather that left forest and ranges parched and easily ignited by lightning.

Fifteen federal, state and local firefighters have died this year battling wildland fires, the center reported. The worst single accident this year was a helicopter crash Aug. 13 in Idaho that killed three firefighters and the pilot.

Rose Davis of the NIFC said the 2006 acreage was skewed by unusually large early season range fires in Texas and Oklahoma — blazes that burned mainly sparsely populated areas and did not lead to large numbers of deaths or heavy damage to homes.

The Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service have spent about $1.25 billion fighting the fires since the fiscal 2006 year began last Oct. 1.

The wildfire season may almost be over. Cooler weather and upper-elevation snow are expected in the Northwest.

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