Washington wildfire threatens rural community

/ Source: The Associated Press

Firefighters cut trees and vegetation Tuesday to try slowing the growth of an 11-square-mile wildfire that has chased summer tourists from this rural, mountainous region.

The fire, which has been burning for nearly seven weeks, has threatened a National Park Service visitor center, a post office and several other buildings.

The approximately 60 residents who live in the area, which is accessible only by boat or float plane, have refused to leave. Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation of the boat landing and about 25 homes, largely summer rentals, sending about 100 tourists away.

The fire, which was burning 7,576 acres or nearly 12 square miles, was holding in an area called Imus Creek, but fire managers were concerned that southeast winds could blow the blaze toward the road Tuesday, said Barbara Budd, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

About 20 firefighters battled the blaze Tuesday, cutting trees and vegetation near the road, carefully dodging electricity lines with the aid of power crews. More firefighting resources were expected to arrive, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mick Mueller.

“The truth is it could go either way, depending on what the weather allows,” said Deputy Sheriff Maria Agnew. “Obviously, we’re looking for resources to help put the fire out.”

Chelan County Sheriff Mike Harum also met with Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday to alert her to the situation and request additional resources. Gregoire visited Stehekin days after the fire was started July 26 by a campfire.

Elsewhere in the West, firefighters continued to combat a wildfire season that has stretched toward autumn.

California: Fire shuts Interstate 5
In California, crews fought a fast-moving wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest that scorched more than 30 square miles and shut down Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, the main artery to Northern and Central California. The 30-square-mile blaze was 25 percent contained by Tuesday.

The fire, which U.S. Forest Service investigators said was sparked by someone burning debris, scorched mostly chaparral and brushy hillsides over the last week, but rapidly spread east Monday afternoon because of hot, dry and windy weather.

The National Intragency Fire Center reports that 8.65 million acres have burned so far across the country this year. The blackened 13,521 square miles represents an area bigger than Maryland.