Wildfires blasting through western U.S. draw states to lend support

Out-of-state crews headed to Montana on Saturday to battle a blaze that injured five firefighters as the U.S. West struggles with a series of fires that have ravaged rural lands and destroyed homes.

Fire crews from California, Utah headed to Montana; less than half of Oregon's immense Bootleg Fire contained

Firefighter Charles Also from Santa Fe, N.M., mops up spot fires near the northwest edge of the Bootleg Fire near Paisley, Ore., on Friday. (Nathan Howard/The Associated Press)

Out-of-state crews headed to Montana on Saturday to battle a blaze that injured five firefighters as the U.S. West struggles with a series of fires that have ravaged rural lands and destroyed homes.

Progress was being made on the country's largest blaze, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, but less than half of it had been contained, fire officials said.

The growth of the sprawling fire had slowed, but increased fire activity was expected on Saturday, and thousands of homes remained threatened on its eastern side, authorities said.

"This fire is resistant to stopping at dozer lines," Jim Hanson, fire behaviour analyst, said Saturday in a news release from the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"With the critically dry weather and fuels we are experiencing, firefighters are having to constantly re-evaluate their control lines and look for contingency options."

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proclaimed a state of emergency for four northern counties because of wildfires that he said were causing "conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property." The proclamation opens the way for more state support.

On Saturday, fire crews from California and Utah were coming to Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced. Five firefighters were injured on Thursday when swirling winds blew flames back on them as they worked on the Devil's Creek Fire burning in rough, steep terrain near the rural town of Jordan.

They remained hospitalized on Friday. Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Mark Jacobsen declined to release the extent of their injuries, and attempts to learn their conditions Saturday were unsuccessful. The firefighters included three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crew members from North Dakota and two U.S. Forest Service firefighters from New Mexico.

A helicopter works above the Devil's Creek Fire in central Montana on Thursday. (Mark Jacobsen/Bureau of Land Management/The Associated Press)

Lightning remains a threat

In California, the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe continued to burn through timber and chaparral, threatening communities on both sides of the California-Nevada state line. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 4 in Alpine County, has destroyed at least 10 buildings.

In Butte County, Calif., the Dixie Fire continued to burn in rugged and remote terrain, hampering firefighters' efforts to contain the blaze as it grows eastward, becoming the state's largest wildfire so far this year.

Cal Fire firefighters battle the Dixie Fire near Prattville in Plumas County, Calif., on Friday. (Noah Berger/The Associated Press)

Heavy smoke from both huge fires lowered visibility and may at times ground aircraft providing support for fire crews on the ground. The air quality south of Lake Tahoe and across the state line into Nevada deteriorated to very unhealthy levels.

In north-central Washington, firefighters battled two blazes in Okanogan County that threatened hundreds of homes and again caused hazardous air-quality conditions on Saturday. And in northern Idaho, east of Spokane, Wash., a small fire near the Silverwood Theme Park prompted evacuations Friday evening at the park and in the surrounding area. The theme park was back open on Saturday with the fire half contained.

Although hot weather with afternoon winds posed a continued threat of spreading blazes, weekend forecasts also called for a chance of scattered thunderstorms in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and other states. However, forecasters said some could be dry thunderstorms that produce little rain but a lot of lightning, which can spark new blazes.

More than 85 large wildfires were burning around the country, most of them in western states, and they had burned more than 5,530 square kilometres of land.


  • An earlier version of this story stated that additional mandatory evacuations were issued on Friday at the Bootleg Fire. In fact, no additional mandatory evacuations were issued that day.
    Jul 24, 2021 9:26 PM ET