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Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Idaho residents tormented by wildfires

The west is having one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades. So far 6.4 million acres have burned, and on Wednesday Idaho residents were evacuated to avoid another massive wildfire.

By Jessie L. BonnerAssociated Press / August 15, 2012

A California Department of Forestry firefighter works on putting out a flare up along Highway 20 on the Wye Fire, near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., Monday. Wildfires burn across the west, threatening hundreds of homes in California and killing a firefighter in Idaho.

John Burgess/AP


Featherville, Idaho

Across the west, dozens of fires fueled by searing heat, dry weather and strong winds have added up to misery for weary residents who already are fed up with one of the region's worst fire seasons in decades.

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On Wednesday, hundreds of residents of two small Idaho towns were packing their belongings and clearing out of the way of a massive wildfire burning in a gulch a few miles away and expected to hit town later this week.

Wildfires also tormented homeowners in Washington, Oregon and California, as arid conditions kept fire crews busier than usual across the region.

Jennifer Smith of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said not only are more wildfires occurring in the West this year than last, but the nation's fires have gotten bigger.

As of Wednesday, 42,933 wildfires had been reported in the US this season, burning 6.4 million acres. The 10-year average for this period is 52,535 fires but covering only 5 million acres, she said.

"Nevada has been hammered, and Idaho has some big ones that are going to burn until the snow falls," Smith said.

Idaho's Trinity Ridge Fire has burned more than 100 square miles in the past two weeks. It's bearing down on Pine and Featherville, recreation getaways in the mountains 105 miles northeast of Boise.

"It's not a question of if, but when," Boise National Forest Spokesman Dave Olson said of the fire reaching Featherville's outskirts.

On Wednesday, there was a steady stream of traffic with people leaving Pine and Featherville, a town with a single main street, saloon, motel, cafe and a handful of other shops. The area has 450 homes, with about half inhabited year-round and the others serving as summer and weekend retreats.

A veil of smoke has loomed over Featherville for several days, a signal for many that evacuation orders may soon be coming. Officials say a mandatory evacuation order could be issued within 24 to 36 hours.

Lorie Winmill, a 44-year-old who works at Cyndie's Featherville Cafe, was emotional Wednesday as she loaded her vehicle, consoled her sobbing 4-year-old granddaughter, Lizzie, and prepared to stay with friends elsewhere.

"This is the only home Lizzie has ever known," Winmill said, tearing up herself.

Fire crews are battling a total of nine big fires in Idaho, including one in the Salmon-Challis National Forest that stranded 250 rafters floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Authorities closed a backcountry access road due to falling boulders and debris caused by the blaze. Some of the floaters were stuck for two days before authorities began shuttling them out Wednesday.

In central Washington, hundreds of firefighters used planes, helicopters and bulldozers to battle a large blaze, but authorities said it could be some time before they know exactly how extensive the property damage is.

Incident commander Rex Reed said Wednesday afternoon that the Taylor Bridge Fire had scorched about 22,000 acres, or roughly 34 square miles. At least 60 primary residences have been destroyed, but conditions were still too dangerous to come up with an exact count, Reed said.

Crews hoped to increase containment levels by Wednesday evening, but officials were keeping a wary eye on conditions forecast for later in the week. The fire near Cle Elum has caused hundreds of residents to flee.

The fire broke out Monday at a bridge construction site.

In Northern California, firefighters already dealing with extreme heat braced Wednesday for the possibility of thunderstorms and strong winds as they tried to conquer several raging wildfires.

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