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Helicopters try to slow down Western fires

SHARE Helicopters try to slow down Western fires

LAVA HOT SPRINGS, Idaho (AP) — Helicopters replaced ground workers and bulldozers Wednesday as firefighters intensified efforts to contain Idaho fires that were among nearly 50 raging across 10 Western states.

Helicopters capable of dumping 1,000 gallons of water were used on 11 fires burning nearly 200,000 acres in the steep rugged terrain of southeastern Idaho.

"Conditions are so dry that it just keeps jumping all those lines," said Sky Huffaker, spokeswoman for the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center.

The cluster of fires was only 20 percent contained, but crews managed to stop flames that had threatened houses near the resort community of Lava Hot Springs.

Four dozen fires covering more than 700,000 acres burned in Western states, injuring firefighters, forcing hundreds of evacuations and creating a haze that shrouded mountains and deserts and triggered respiratory warnings.

Four firefighters suffered second-degree burns Wednesday as the wind suddenly shifted while they battled one of several big blazes that have blackened some 83,000 acres of California timber and brush. Two firefighters were hospitalized in serious condition and two were in fair condition.

Elsewhere, California firefighters made big gains against a giant fire burning atop the southern Sierra Nevada, and a major forest fire on the central coast was surrounded, allowing crews to move elsewhere.

California's biggest blaze, which had burned 72,200 acres in Sequoia National Forest on the east side of the Southern Sierra, was 40 percent contained.

The federal government is spending $15 million a day to support 20,000 civilian and military firefighters from 46 states and Canada. Undersecretary of Agriculture James Lyons said the government is prepared to ask for help from foreign countries.

"Firefighting resources are stretched thin," Lyons said. "We may be requesting resources from other countries."

He said both Mexico and Australia have already been alerted that they could be asked for assistance.

"This is not something that's going to be over next week," said Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, who was meeting with fire strategists at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Wednesday.

Forecasters say the kind of break in the weather needed to change the conditions may not occur until October in the West.

In Montana, two new fires broke out Wednesday evening in the southwest part of the state, scorching 900 acres. Eleven other blazes have burned at least 131,100 acres. Throughout the state, residents have been evacuated from more than 300 homes.

A fire that started by lightning last week 15 miles east of Jackson, Wyo., doubled in size to 2,000 acres. Some 200 residents and campers were evacuated.

"It was quite a horrific sight to see the flames leaping all over the place," said Barbara Hetherington, who evacuated her family's cabin with her two grandsons.

Utah firefighters battled nearly 55,000 acres of wildfires, including more than 48,000 acres in the Fishlake National Forest, as they waited for reinforcements from the state National Guard. Crews had contained about 30 percent of the six fires burning in Fishlake.

A fire sparked by lightning burned 4,000 acres and forced evacuations in southwest Reno, Nevada, but firefighters said Wednesday that improving weather overnight let them contain 65 percent of the blaze.

Across the West, skies resembled the smog layer in a major metropolis, causing residents to sneeze and snuffle and rub bleary, red eyes.

"I've been getting up extra early just to watch the sunrise," said Tom Schlatter, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's this big red globe coming up every morning."