YREKA, Calif. – Fire managers worried Tuesday that lightning could spark more blazes in the West, while investigators tried to determine why a helicopter crashed while delivering water to firefighters in the Klamath National Forest, killing the pilot.
The helicopter went down Monday in rugged mountains about 12 miles southeast of Happy Camp, said Duane Lyon, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. It had been carrying a large water container to refill backpacks for firefighters on the ground, and several firefighters saw it crash.
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The pilot, the only person on board, was under contract with the Forest Service, Lyon said.
More than 1,100 fire crews were battling the cluster of about 30 lightning-sparked fires covering 14 square miles near the Oregon state line. The fires started July 10 and had threatened up to 550 homes near the town of Happy Camp.
Fire crews have been wrestling with dozens of huge wildfires across the West, primarily in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Fire managers worried Tuesday that dry lightning storms in some of those states could start more blazes, though the systems also were expected to bring rain, the agency said.
"It's great to have rain, but there's always the possibility of a downdraft and erratic winds. There's a high concern over additional lightning strikes," said Ricardo Zuniga, a fire information officer in Utah, where a blaze has charred more than 33 square miles and forced the evacuation of several communities.
Fire lines built along the east side of the Utah blaze held during the night, protecting the town of Fountain Green, home of about 1,000 people about 90 miles south of Salt Lake City.
"We didn't have any big advances on the fire anywhere," fire information officer Terry McDonald said Tuesday. Fountain Green was not evacuated, but residents were told to leave the small towns of Oaker Hills, Indian Ridge, Elk Ridge, Indianola and Holiday Oaks, officials said.
In southwestern Utah, a fire in and around backcountry areas of Zion National Park was 80 percent contained after burning 14 square miles.
Mandatory evacuation orders remained in effect for tiny Jarbidge, Nev., within a mile of a blaze that had blackened more than 880 square miles on the Idaho-Nevada line, fire information officer Bill Watt said. While roughly 90 percent of the fire was in Idaho, the most active part was in Nevada and was 15 percent contained, he said.
An evacuation order for Murphy Hot Springs in southwestern Idaho was lifted for residents only. A lot of grazing land burned, and cattle likely died in the blaze, fire information officer Pam Bierce said.
In Montana, a nearly 14-square-mile fire burning on the edge of Lewis and Clark National Forest led to an evacuation order for 40 summer homes. Many were unoccupied, said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Cheryl Liedle.
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