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Wildfires Rampage Across West's Most Scenic Forests

September 04, 1987|From United Press International

Timber-destroying wildfires rampaged out of control today over nearly 700 square miles--an area twice as large as New York City--in California and other states, despoiling some of the West's most scenic U.S. forests with ugly smoke and ash.

The epidemic of destructive blazes, ignited by about 9,000 lightning strikes, crackled through the parched thick forests of Northern California and southern Oregon for a sixth day, with signs the crisis was growing even worse.

Flames from the thousands of spreading existing fires and new conflagrations more than doubled the total scorched acreage to past 680 square miles--about 436,000 acres in 1,992 separate fires. That was more acreage than had been consumed in the first four days combined.

"The acreage continues to rise, meaning we're not getting a handle on the fires at all," Jerry Ahlstrom of the statewide fire command in Sacramento said.

Holiday weekend campers headed to the back country were likely to find some areas closed, and heavy smoke and ash creating a cloak of haze in pristine national forests and wilderness.

Stanislaus National Forest, besieged by three major fires, was closed indefinitely. U.S. 50 linking South Lake Tahoe with Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area was also closed.

Ablaze were 375,205 acres in California where 1,346 fires raged; 82,600 acres in Oregon, and 26,000 acres in Idaho. Other smaller fires were out of control in Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Wyoming.

About 700 crews made up by 18,000 to 20,000 firefighters--virtually every professional forest fire fighter in the country, aided by National Guard troops and prison inmates--were mobilized to battle the thousands of fires.

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