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Hundreds more flee massive wildfires; Guard joins battle in Idaho

There are at least 70 major fires in 13 states west of the Mississippi, the result of a dry, hot summer. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

 

Updated at 12:10 a.m. ET: The Idaho National Guard is joining the fight against at least nine wildfires burning across the state, including the 68,000-acre Trinity Ridge blaze, one of 60 large U.S. fires being fought in one of the worst U.S. fire seasons.

Most are scorching the dry and hot Western states, including Washington, where the 22,656-acre Taylor Bridge fire five miles outside Cle Elum has charred 70-plus homes and more than 200 barns and other structures this week.

More than 400 homes have been evacuated in the area, but firefighters managed to carve containment lines around 25 percent of the blaze's perimeter by Wednesday night, with full containment expected within a week, authorities said.

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


As of Thursday, more than 43,000 wildfires had been reported in the U.S. this season, burning a total of nearly 6.4 million acres, or 10,000 square miles, the center said.

The 10-year average for the period is 52,535 fires, but covering only 5 million acres, Smith said.

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The massive Idaho wildfire, which has burned more than 100 square miles in the past two weeks, is bearing down on Pine and Featherville, vacation towns 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.

The area has 450 homes, with about half inhabited year-round and the others serving as summer and weekend retreats.

Robert Sorbo / Reuters

Blazes in multiple states threaten houses and cause evacuations.

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In a Thursday morning update, officials from the Boise National Forest said the fire hadn't burned much closer to Featherville overnight, NBC station KTVB reported. Instead, they said the fire expanded west, overtaking the western ridge of Sheep Mountain.

Also in Idaho, a wildfire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest 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 rafters were stuck for two days before authorities began shuttling them out Wednesday.

When Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter declared a state disaster on Wednesday, he allowed the Idaho Department of Lands to trigger its agreement with the Idaho National Guard to provide additional support to fire crews. That means Idaho Emergency Operations Center has been activated and will issue assignments to the National Guard, KTVB reported.

Wildfires burn in the foothills of Southern California, destroying buildings and sending two firefighters to the hospital. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

In Washington, NBC station KING of Seattle reported that firefighters made headway on the Taylor Bridge Wildfire burning near Cle Elum, but hot weather threatened to worsen the situation on Thursday.

Related: Inmates join fight against Washington wildfire

"We've got some pretty active fire weather coming in here the next couple of days, so we have to get after it and get this thing wrapped up," incident commander Rex Reed told firefighters at a morning briefing.

More evacuations were ordered late Wednesday on the north side of the blaze, adding to the hundreds of residents who have already fled homes. The fire started Monday and quickly spread in rural areas east of Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Related: Lower temps, rain bring some relief from drought conditions

Elsewhere:

In California, crews were preparing for storms and strong winds at a wildfire in a remote, rugged area in Plumas National Forest. More than 900 homes were threatened by the 66-square-mile blaze in Northern California.

Nearly a dozen major blazes were burning across California, with some 8,000 firefighters assigned to get them under control, said state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. They made progress against a blaze in Northern California's Lake County, allowing hundreds of evacuees in the Spring Valley community to return home.

A brutal heat wave in Southern California, however, fueled wildfires that tore through more than 24 square miles of brush. Lightning sparked a group of five fires that together burned more than 14½ square miles in a rural part of San Diego County, said state fire Capt. Mike Mohler. About 400 residents were ordered to leave in the communities of Ranchita and Santa Fe.

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In Oregon, four major blazes have been burning across the state since a series of lightning storms last week. One fire that straddles the state's border with California threatened a local landmark, the Crowder Flat Guard Station. Another blaze, which burned 675 square miles of sagebrush along the Oregon-Nevada border since being sparked by lightning on Aug. 5, finally stopped spreading this week.

In Nevada, 10 large wildfires were burning in northern part of the state.

In Arizona, rainfall and cooler temperatures helped crews battling two small wildfires east of Phoenix. Both were in such remote, rugged terrain that crews were forced to attack one of the, near Superior, by air only.

In Wyoming, firefighters used a helicopter to rescue five California men from a remote mountain fishing camp after a wildfire threatened their only way out. That blaze has burned 1,300 acres in the Shoshone National Forest, but no homes are in the extremely rugged area. Elsewhere in the state, firefighters had a 6,500-acre fire in Converse County nearly contained.

In Montana, about 15 residents west of Polson were forced to evacuate after winds up to 30 mph helped double the size of a 7-square-mile fire. No homes were threatened, though some outbuildings have burned.

This article includes reporting by The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC's Jim Gold.

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