PORTLAND, Ore. – Two wildfires crackling through sagebrush and juniper in south-central Oregon merged Saturday to create an 83,000-acre blaze. Residents of more than 60 homes were urged to evacuate.
Crews said they'll have a better shot at containing the blaze now that it's concentrated in one area. ``The fire crews are getting together and talking about what's going to happen next,'' said Dale Warriner, a fire spokesman.
The wildfire was the second-largest in the nation, trailing only a complex of fires burning across 94,000 acres in a remote area northwest of Green River, Utah, said Marc Hollen, spokesman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Residents in and around Summer Lake and Silver Lake, two isolated high-desert communities, were asked to consider evacuating.
The blaze was about 15 percent contained Saturday afternoon. It was among about 25 major fires burning in Oregon across a total of about 212,000 acres.
Meanwhile Saturday, an order grounding much of the nation's firefighting fleet of aging, heavy duty air tankers was lifted, two days after the second deadly crash since June in the middle of a busy wildfire season.
Still grounded pending results of federal investigations, however, were nine planes of the same types as those that crashed in June near Walker, Calif., and Thursday near Lyons, Colo., killing a total of five crew members.
Some tankers in Oregon remained on the tarmac for additional checks, but most of the 10-plane fleet took off with loads of slurry, Hollen said.
So far this year, wildfires have burned more than 3.5 million acres around the United States, about as much as burned in all of 2001, according to the interagency fire center.
Elsewhere, a wind-whipped fire in Washington threatened residential areas near Lake Chelan on Saturday, and nearly 300 homes had been ordered evacuated. The fire in north-central Washington had burned about 17,000 acres.
In Colorado, a small part of Rocky Mountain National Park was closed after a fast-spreading wildfire nearby doubled in size to 4,500 acres. Flames drew to within a quarter-mile of homes about 45 miles northwest of Denver; about 240 homes have been evacuated since the fire started Wednesday. In Boulder, firefighters contained a 400-acre grass fire that had prompted an evacuation request for residents of about 1,600 homes.
After burning for six days, a nearly 10,000-acre blaze near Topaz Lake on the California-Nevada state line was declared contained Saturday. Also contained was a roughly 8,500-acre fire on the Nevada-Utah line near Ely.