Wildfires blaze through Western states

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 10:00am

Colorado paid the price earlier this summer. This week, new wildfires are burning through sagebrush, grass and beetle-killed lodgepole pines in California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho.

In all, 62 fires, including 16 new large fires, were burning as of Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service reported. They have destroyed dozens of homes and threatened many more.

In Idaho, a fire turned deadly as a 20-year-old firefighter was killed. Two other firefighters have been injured in Oregon and California.

Anne Veseth died Monday while fighting the Steep Canyon Fire near Orofino, said Phil Sammon of the Forest Service. He said the death was accidental but could not confirm how it happened.

However, CNN affiliate KTVB said Veseth was killed by a falling tree.

Residents of Veseth's hometown, Moscow, remembered the young college student as someone who always gave back to community.

"This is a stark reminder of how dangerous the business is that we are in," Sammon said. "We are extremely saddened by this loss."

On Tuesday, the fire danger spiked with searing temperatures and single-digit humidity across Western states. In some places, winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour.

More than 750 firefighters and support personnel are now working in Oregon and Nevada to corral the 418,235-acre Holloway Fire, the largest of the Western wildfires ignited by a lightning strike on August 5.

"We saw huge fire whorls all night," said Fred Kaninski, fire behavior analyst for the Holloway Fire. "It was burning like daytime."

The northeast flank of the fire burned into Oregon Canyon, where a firefighter suffered burns to the leg and forearm and minor smoke inhalation, the Bureau of Land Management said.

The injured firefighter was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Winnemucca, Nevada, and was released Sunday night. She is being sent to a burn center in Salt Lake City for further evaluation, the bureau said.

On Monday, firefighters battled flames that measured 2 to 8 feet high. On occasion, they reported seeing 15-foot flames.

In central Washington state, a wildfire prompted firefighters to call for backup and forced evacuations. The blaze started Monday afternoon, scorched about 800 acres and threatens about 100 homes, the Washington State Patrol said.

In California, a pair of fires burning north of San Francisco in Lake County forced the evacuation of nearly 500 homes, and a firefighter was injured while battling the flames, said Julie Hutchinson of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

She did not have information on the status of the injured firefighter.

Meteorologists predict the dry heat will last into next week -- not good news for firefighters. Any thunderstorms that pop up could present more bad news than good, since lightning strikes could spark more flames.

However, rain doused the killer Waldo Canyon Fire that blazed out of control through parts of Colorado for many weeks this summer. On Tuesday, Colorado was not on the national fire map.

--
CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.
 

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