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US Western Wildfires Stretch Resources Thin

  • Reuters

Firefighters prepare to battle the Wolverine wildfire near Chelan, Washington, in this U.S. Forest Service picture taken Aug. 16, 2015.

Firefighters prepare to battle the Wolverine wildfire near Chelan, Washington, in this U.S. Forest Service picture taken Aug. 16, 2015.

Dozens of large wildfires roared largely unchecked across several Western states on Monday, stretching resources thin for agencies struggling to contain the flames amid a heat wave gripping the drought-parched region.

Among the areas hardest hit was northern Idaho, where an elderly evacuee was killed and at least 50 homes were destroyed by a cluster of fires that have raged along the Clearwater River in and around the Nez Perce Indian Reservation since last week.

The so-called Clearwater Complex of fires has charred more than 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of timber and brush and prompted the evacuation of more than 100 homes from the vicinity of the logging towns of Orofino and Kamiah, authorities said.

An elderly woman died on Friday night or early Saturday as flames hemmed in Kamiah on three sides, according to Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings. Cheryl Wissler, 70, was trying to secure her backyard chickens before fleeing with her husband when she fell and hit her head, Giddings said. An autopsy was planned.

Giddings said authorities, firefighters and residents have been taxed by multiple fires burning across an 8,500-square-mile (22,000-sq-km) county intersected by steep canyons and mountain forests crowded with pine and fir trees.

"There are very limited resources and fires everywhere," he said.

Ryan Greendeer, a spokesman for fire managers overseeing the Clearwater Complex, said that for the third day on Monday the team's requests for reinforcements of ground crews and aircraft had been returned with the initials "UTF," for "unable to fill."

"Because of the fire activity around the entire region, our resources are stretched very, very thin," he said. "Each incident is having to make do with what is available, not what's needed."

The Clearwater was one of 14 major wildfires burning across Idaho and one of 80 tallied in seven Western states, the bulk of them in Washington, Oregon, Montana and California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Little if any containment had been achieved for at least half of those blazes as of Monday, the agency reported, citing breezy conditions and unusually high temperatures persisting across much of the West.

In one of the fiercest conflagrations, hundreds of people were ordered from homes over the weekend in central Oregon, where a cluster of wildfires dubbed the Canyon Creek Complex destroyed 26 dwellings and continued to threaten hundreds of other structures, authorities said.

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