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Firefighter killed as wildfires rage across the West, destroying dozens of homes

Updated 12:28 a.m. ET: Wildfires raged in several Western states on Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes and threatening hundreds more. In Idaho, one firefighter was killed by a falling tree.

A fire in central Washington grew rapidly overnight and destroyed more than 60 homes, spurring the state's governor to declare an emergency in two counties, NBC station KING of Seattle reported.

Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old who was in her second season as a firefighter, was killed Sunday as she worked a fire near Orofino, Idaho, the U.S. Forest Service told The Associated Press. Her older brother also is a wild-land firefighter in Idaho, where 12 blazes are burning.

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"The Forest Service is devastated by the loss of one of our own," Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell told the AP.

Federal officials investigate Idaho wildfire death

Officials were investigating the death, which came on the same day that another firefighter narrowly escaped a wildfire in southeastern Oregon.

That firefighter was forced to deploy her emergency shelter in an area overrun by wind-whipped flames. She suffered minor burns to a leg and forearm and minor smoke inhalation.

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The rest of her 20-person federal crew made it to a safety zone and was pulled off the fire. The blaze scorched about 653 square miles in remote terrain straddling Oregon and Nevada, where five ranches in the Kings River Valley were evacuated.

A crew in central Washington state also barely outran flames at a wind-driven fire in Kittitas County. The firefighters managed to drive to safety as they got ahead of the Taylor Bridge fire, said Richelle Risdon, a county fire spokeswoman.

That wind-whipped fire, burning in rugged terrain near Cle Elum grew from 2,800 acres to more than 20,000 acres in a matter of hours overnight, KING reported.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it had destroyed more than 60 homes as well as 40 other structures. Another 450 homes were evacuated as winds shifted northeast, blowing toward several pockets of homes and subdivisions.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency in Kittitas and Yakima counties to make available more resources to fight the fire.

With the wind howling late Monday, the fire quickly burned through rugged timber, crowning in trees and glowing across ridge lines. 

Incident commander Rex Reed said the fire was 10 percent contained on Tuesday evening, KING reported.

Firefighters from around the state, as well as 140 state prison inmates, were called in to help regional firefighters and the Department of Natural Resources, KING reported.

Officials said no injuries had been reported so far. Washington Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Grassel told The AP that the fire crept within six miles of the city of Ellensburg, though crews were able to stop its advance.

Some property at a chimpanzee sanctuary outside Cle Elum burned but the animals were uninjured, Diana Goodrich of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest told KING.

The Kittitas County fairgrounds has been set up as an emergency shelter for large animals evacuated in the area, which is home to many horse and cattle ranches, the Ellensburg Daily Record reported. Owners and volunteers were rounding up stray horses amid reports that people had opened gates or cut fences to let the animals flee the fire.

Authorities said the blaze started on Monday afternoon by workers at a construction site east of Cle Elum, Reuters reported.

In Utah, a lightning-sparked fire consumed about 34 square miles, threatened a herd of wild horses and shut down the historic Pony Express Road in the state's western desert.

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Meanwhile, crews in Northern California made progress against an aggressive wildfire in Lake County that grew to more than 9 square miles and destroyed three buildings. Officials lifted evacuation orders for the residents of nearly 500 homes late Monday, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Berlant told NBC station KCRA in Sacramento on Tuesday that the fire was still advancing, though in a remote area.

"This fire will likely make a number of runs on us today," Berlant told KCRA.

A separate wildfire to the north was threatening about 600 homes, prompting some evacuation orders in the Seneca and Rush Creek communities in Plumas National Forest.

The so-called Wye and Walker fires have charred 7,000 acres and are 30 percent contained, Berlant told KCRA. About 1,100 firefighters were on scene of those fires.

Fires across California have affected some national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

In Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is inortheastern California, a fire that burned 33 square miles of pine forests and thick brush forced the closure of a highway and several trails.

At Joshua Tree, park officials said a fire burned up to 300 acres of rocky, tree-covered hillsides, closing the scenic Keys View Road.

Several other fires in hot and dry Southern California were sparked by lightning, including three burning out of control northeast of Julian. None were threatening any structures.


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