Video: Wildfires scorch Washington State

updated 8/12/2005 2:23:03 PM ET 2005-08-12T18:23:03

Three firefighters who hunkered beneath emergency shelters as a wildfire burned over them emerged safely from the flames, officials said Thursday.

The firefighters were among those battling a blaze late Wednesday that forced crews to retreat and shut down a major power line in western Montana. Estimates of the fire’s size Thursday ranged from 6,600 acres to 8,000 acres.

Fire information officer Alan Barbian said the three firefighters deployed their fire shelters as the flames closed in. All three escaped unharmed.

“The fire shelters worked,” Barbian said Thursday. The lightweight, fireproof tents “did what they’re supposed to, and we have three people alive because of it.”

High wind advanced the fire more than four miles and doubled its size, he said. The fire started last week along Interstate 90.

The flames shut down power circuits capable of carrying enough electricity for two Seattle-size cities, said Alan Hansen, a Bonneville Power Administration spokesman in Portland, Ore. However, the lines were carrying only a fraction of their capacity and service was not interrupted.

State of emergency
In Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire on Thursday declared a wildfire emergency, ordering state agencies to contribute to firefighting efforts, and alerted the National Guard for possible call up if crews need help.

“We’re facing a siege of wildfires across our state,” she told reporters at the Capitol.

The largest fire, a 42,000-acre blaze in southeastern Washington near Pomeroy, was 40 percent contained but was burning south toward cabins in the Umatilla National Forest, said John Townsley of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, Ore.

Federal fire officials said the fire had burned 49 residences and 38 outbuildings, with more charred areas to be checked. About 100 homes, some full-time homes and some seasonal cabins, remained evacuated.

A new fire believed to have been started by a spark from a wheat truck west of Spokane quickly spread, prompting evacuation of about 20 homes in north Lincoln County, said Andrew Stenbeck, a state Department of Natural Resources spokesman. The fire was estimated at 1,500 acres Thursday morning.

A wildfire in north-central Idaho doubled in size Thursday, prompting the evacuation of about 100 homes in the Mount Idaho area. The blaze was estimated at more than 1,000 acres on state land and in the Nez Perce National Forest.

The National Interagency Fire Center said 33 large fires, totaling 222,510 acres, were burning Thursday, mostly in Western states. So far this year, wildfires have charred 5.5 million acres nationwide, compared with 5.6 million acres at the same time last year.

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