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Hot, Dry Weather Encouraging Western Wildfires

Steven Dubois & Tim Fought, Associated Press
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(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Southern Oregon wildfire destroyed six homes and 14 other buildings, and dozens of additional blazes ignited after thousands of lightning strikes lashed the state.

The destructive Moccasin Hill fire — named for a longstanding subdivision — began Sunday near the ranching town of Sprague River, about 25 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, fire spokeswoman Erica Hupp said Monday. Many residents keep horses and cattle on plots of 3 to 5 acres, and neighbors have been stepping in to shelter both stock and pets, she said.

The blaze encompasses 4 ½ square miles, Hupp said, and it caused about 100 people to evacuate, though some have returned.

Walter “Butch” Browning, who operates a general store in Sprague River, said the flames reached his driveway Sunday afternoon, forcing his wife to “get out of there” with a computer, a change of clothes, medications and the dogs. The wind changed direction, he said, sparing his place. He slept in his own bed, confident there were enough firefighters between his house and the blaze that has left burning stumps.

Wildfires are an annual concern for the community, Browning said. He has been evacuated at least four times in his 22 years on the property, and once lost a home, he said.

“I had two houses at one time; I have one now. I’m down to my last house,” he quipped. “It’s the price you pay for living in paradise, I guess.”

A shelter for displaced residents has been set up at the Sprague River Community Center. Only one person spent the night, but more people filtered in Monday to take advantage of food and other services, said Julie Miller, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Cascades Region.

Lightning struck Oregon more than 6,000 times Sunday and Monday, touching off small fires by the dozens on both sides of the Cascades. Such a barrage can be expected to cause numerous “sleeper” or holdover fires in coming days, said Robin DeMario, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Meanwhile, authorities in Northern California say a fire that was sparked by exhaust from a truck delivering supplies to an illegal marijuana plot has grown to nearly 7 square miles.

A 27-year-old Sacramento man, Freddie Alexander Smoke, was arrested on suspicion of causing the blaze.

The Bully Fire in forested land in Shasta County had burned through 4,400 acres as of Monday morning, fire officials said. It remained 15 percent contained. The fire has destroyed eight homes and is threatening 15 others.

All evacuations have been lifted.

In Central California, containment of a fire that charred 2.5 square miles in the Sequoia National Forest increased to 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the Mills Canyon Fire burning in central Washington has grown to 35 square miles.

Firefighters strengthened containment lines around the blaze near Entiat (EHN’-tee-aht) on Sunday, but they’re still worried about the potential for dry lightning and wind to kick up the flames on Monday.

Three dozen homes have been evacuated, and residents of another 500 houses have been told to be prepared to leave if the fire gets closer.

Hupp said the fire near Sprague River was worrisome because it had spread overnight and because temperatures were expected to be in the 90s Monday in a region struggling through its second year of drought.

“There’s still a lot of the fire that isn’t lined,” she said.

The weather forecast calls for dry, hot afternoons in Washington and Oregon for the next week.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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