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SMOKE HAMPERS, HELPS FIREFIGHTERS IN ATTACK AGAINST 121 ALASKA FIRES

SHARE SMOKE HAMPERS, HELPS FIREFIGHTERS IN ATTACK AGAINST 121 ALASKA FIRES

Firefighters battling more than 100 wildfires raging over 1 million acres of Alaska's interior say the thick smoke hampering their efforts may be a blessing in disguise.

More than 2,600 firefighters battled 121 separate blazes in Alaska, and the smoke has been so thick the fire bosses think it may be hiding even more fires.In central Oregon, a wildfire in the Deschutes National Forest tripled in size to 600 acres with no containment in sight Sunday, officials said.

The mostly lightning-sparked fires in Alaska have burned 1,006,080 acres since July 1, Trish Hogervorst-Rukke said Sunday night at the joint federal-state Alaska Fire Service headquarters in Fairbanks.

A U.S. Forest Service plane flew in from the Boise Interagency Fire Center to use its infrared equipment to see through the smoke and help map the fires so the fire bosses can plan their attacks.

"There has been so much smoke everywhere that planes have been grounded off and on and there are numerous fires we don't know about," Hogervorst-Rukke said. "It's so smoked in we can't see anything."

But while the smoke has hindered firefighting efforts, it has a flip side.

"On one hand it's positive," Hogervorst-Rukke said. "The smoke keeps the temperatures down and the relative humidity is higher."

Residents of Fairbanks, the interior's largest city, swamped the fire service with calls complaining about the smoke.

No towns or villages were immediately threatened Sunday by any of the fires, although a 1,500-acre blaze burning southwest of Lake Minchumina came within less than 2 miles of a firebreak dug by firefighters and residents.

"There are fires near villages," Hogervorst-Rukke said. "If the wind were to shift there would be a problem, but at this point none of them are right in the path of a fire."

Continued hot and dry weather was expected for the next several days across Alaska, keeping fire danger high - as it is in much of the West. A virtually statewide burning ban went into effect Friday prohibiting all cooking, camping, warming, signaling and other fires.

High winds and hot, dry conditions were keeping about 300 firefighters from containing the 600-acre Topso Butte fire in the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon.

Near Fresno, Calif., a forest fire apparently started by an electricl surge through a power line had grown to 1,700 acres in the Sierra National Forest Sunday night and was continuing to spread.

A small fire was also burning in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita.

(Additional information)

Storms lash 5 states

Strong storms, some dropping 2 inches of rain an hour, lashed parts of Texas, Nebraska, Ohio and Pennsylvania, causing floods and closing roads Monday while a storm with 30-mph winds swept across Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Days of rains pushed the Big Blue River in southeast Nebraska about 6 feet above flood stage in Dorchester, where the river peaked at 21 feet, the highest level since 1986.

A small stream and urban flood warning was in effect Monday in east-central Ohio as heavy rains fell on soil already saturated from a month of heavy rain.

Across the state line, the same storm system caused floods in northwestern Pennsylvania where route 208 between Emlenton and Knox was under 2 feet of water and other roads were closed in the region near Oil City.