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Firefighter killed as wildfires rage in western U.S.

Wildfires have destroyed dozens of structures and threatened hundreds of homes across several western U.S. states, including Idaho, where an on-duty firefighter was killed by a falling tree.
Barb Otte of West Richland holds a neighbour’s horse as she watches a line of flames head across Red Mountain in West Richland, Wash., late Monday (Richard Dickin/The Tri-City Herald/Associated Press)

Wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes and threatened hundreds more in several western U.S. states, including Idaho, where an on-duty firefighter was killed by a falling tree.

Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, was killed Sunday as she worked a fire near Orofino, the U.S. Forest Service said. Her older brother also is a wild-land firefighter in Idaho, where 12 blazes are burning.

"The Forest Service is devastated by the loss of one of our own," Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said.

Officials were investigating the death, which came on the same day that another firefighter narrowly escaped a wildfire in southeastern Oregon.

That firefighter was forced to deploy her emergency shelter in an area overrun by wind-whipped flames. She suffered minor burns to a leg and forearm and minor smoke inhalation.

Her 20-person federal crew made it to a safety zone and was pulled off the fire. The blaze scorched about 1,691 square kilometres in remote terrain straddling Oregon and Nevada, where five ranches in the Kings River Valley were evacuated.

A crew in central Washington state also barely outran flames Monday at a wind-driven fire in Kittitas County. The firefighters managed to drive to safety as they got ahead of the Taylor Bridge fire, said Richelle Risdon, a county fire spokeswoman.

A firefighting helicopter, operated by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, works to suppress the Taylor Bridge Fire east of Cle Elum, Wash. (Brian Myrick/Daily Record/Associated Press)

That same fire destroyed 40 homes since it ignited Monday east of the town of Cle Elum, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Grassel. Within hours, it had grown to about 60 square kilometres, according to fire commanders.

Officials said more homes were burning or under threat near the small town about 97 kilometres west of Seattle, but no injuries were reported so far. Grassel said the fire crept within 10 kilometres of the nearby city of Ellensburg, though crews stopped its forward movement.

Some property at a chimpanzee sanctuary outside Cle Elum burned but the animals were uninjured, Diana Goodrich of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest told KING-TV.

In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 88 square kilometres, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state's western desert.

Meanwhile, crews in Northern California made progress against an aggressive wildfire in Lake County that grew to more than 23 square kilometres and destroyed three buildings. Officials lifted evacuation orders for the residents of nearly 500 homes late Monday, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"The fire is still actively burning, but burning in a remote area," Berlant said. "It's burning in brush that's tinder dry and hasn't seen a fire in decades."

A separate wildfire to the north was threatening about 600 homes, prompting some evacuation orders in the Seneca and Rush Creek communities in Plumas National Forest. The fire burned about 142 square kilometres, officials said.

Fires across California have affected some national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

In Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is in Northern California, a fire forced the closure of a highway and several trails. It burned 85 square kilometres of pine forests and thick brush, fire officials said.

At Joshua Tree, park officials said a fire burned up to 121 hectares of rocky, tree-covered hillsides, closing the scenic Keys View Road.

A handful of other fires in hot and dry Southern California was sparked by lightning, including three burning out of control northeast of Julian. None were threatening any structures.

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