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‘It just shot up so fast’; Fires blaze across West

August 15, 2012

CLE ELUM, Wash. - As firefighters across the West responded to blazes, efforts in Washington state were made especially difficult Tuesday as wind gusts pushed fast-moving flames through a small town, destroying dozens of houses.

The fire in central Washington has burned about 70 homes, scorching along roughly 40 square miles of grassland, timber and sagebrush, authorities said.

More than 400 people have been evacuated, said Department of Natural Resources Fire Incident Commander Rex Reed. No injuries have been reported, but authorities say that because of wind, heat and dry conditions, the fire danger is extreme.

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A firefighting helicopter, operated by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, works to suppress flames from the Taylor Bridge Fire east of Cle Elum, Wash., Monday, Aug. 13.

"We've had a long prolonged dry period - three weeks with no precipitation at all," Reed said.

The blaze sparked up at a construction site Monday afternoon near Cle Elum, a town about 75 miles east of Seattle, and spread rapidly.

Brad Rorem and his two sons were preparing gear to float down the Yakima River and fish when they spotted the blaze under the bridge from their home.

"It sort of erupted, and the wind was blowing hard in our faces. It just shot up so fast," he said, adding later, "We feel really fortunate to have gotten off the mountain in time."

Kittitas County Fire and Rescue Capt. Joe Seemiller said the wind has made it extremely difficult to turn back the flames.

"Unless Mother Nature helps us out here, we're going to be fighting this awhile," he said.

In Idaho, authorities said a firefighter was killed by a falling tree Sunday. Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, died as she worked a fire near Orofino, the U.S. Forest Service said.

In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 34 square miles, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state's western desert.

Along the Nevada-Oregon state line a vast wildfire has grown to about 675 square miles. Over the weekend, the blaze forced evacuations and forced one firefighter to crawl into an emergency fire shelter. She suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Across California, thousands of firefighters also were contending with dry conditions, strong winds and triple-digit temperatures. The blazes left some areas with smoke lingering in the air.



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