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Fires scorch nearly 900,000 acres across Northwest

By CASEY MINTER

Capital Press

Wildfires have burned nearly 900,000 acres of forests and grasslands across the Pacific Northwest.

Almost 10,000 firefighters are battling 19 wildfires that have burned nearly 900,000 acres across Oregon and Washington since early last week.

Fire officials in both states are struggling to fight the blazes and have declared a state of emergency, calling for the National Guard and additional fire crews from across the West.

“In the next few days we’ll have to wait and see how the large fires react to the weather,” a Northwest Interagency representative said. Rain fell across parts of the Northwest earlier this week.

More than 594,362 acres have burned since lightning strikes started most of the Oregon fires last week.

The biggest wildfire, the Buzzard Complex near Burns, Ore., has blackened nearly 400,000 acres.

It is 85 percent contained, but ranchers in the area just starting to assess the damage.

“The fire is finished on our end,” said Bill Wilber, a rancher near Burns, “but we haven’t recovered. We might not for a long time, maybe never.”

As of Julay 21, he had lost seven cows and 13 calves to the blaze, and expects to find more dead livestock once his land cools enough to allow a more thorough assessment.

“Ranchers and farmers are very close to their animals,” Wilber said. “To see them die like that, it’s gut-wrenching.”

The Siegner Ranch in Riverside, Ore., on the eastern flank of the Buzzard Complex fires, also sustained heavy losses. The fire did a lot of damage, but a family member says he feels lucky that some of the ranch was left unharmed.

“Obviously, it burned about two-thirds of our range ground, but we’ll be fine. We’ll survive, we’ll need more hay for the winter but we’ll persevere,” Mitch Seigner said.

Seigner, Wilber and other ranchers in the area worked to minimize losses. Seigner said he was helping a neighbor herd some cattle out of the path of the fire early last week when he saw it really start to pick up.

“It must have grown six to seven miles in one day. There’s nothing anyone could’ve done against that,” Seigner said.

Cooler weather and intermittent rain across Washington and Oregon are helping firefighters gain the upper hand on several of the blazes, but with rain comes more lightning.

Over 28 lightning strikes in the southeast and south-central part of the Oregon July 22 were forcing the NWCC and the 6,441-firefighting personnel operating in that state to remain vigilant.

In Oregon, several Red Flag wildfire warnings are in effect for the Pine Creek, Donnybrook and Black Rock fires due to high winds and thunderstorms.

The Shaniko Butte Fire is the second largest fire in Oregon, having burned 42,500 acres 12 miles north of Warm Springs.

The Black Rock, Pine Creek, Bridge 99 Complex and Donnybrook fires are all burning through the Deschutes National Forest, covering a total of 94,654 acres and requiring approximately 1,700 firefighting personnel.

In Washington, over 285,271 acres had burned as of July 22, and 3,277 firefighters were on the scene.

The Carlton Complex, the largest wildfire in Washington state history, had destroyed 100-200 houses and other structures and burned 243,291 acres as of July 22.

Six other wildfires in Washington had burned a combined 73,000 acres.





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