Wildfire Destroys 3 Homes in Nebraska Panhandle

At least three homes were destroyed and at least three others were damaged by one of the six wildfires burning in the Nebraska Panhandle.

About 700 firefighters were battling the fires, which have scorched more than 62 1/2 square miles and continued to be fueled by triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and 20-mph winds.

"As difficult as this situation is, it could be a lot worse," Gov. Dave Heineman said in a teleconference Saturday.

Heineman visited the city of Chadron the day after 1,200 people evacuated their homes and firefighters successfully defended the Chadron State College campus. A subdivision on the south side of Chadron was briefly evacuated again Saturday.

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Firefighters from local, state and federal agencies were battling the blazes, and helicopters and tanker planes were trying to slow the fires from the air, officials said.

Chadron Fire Chief Pat Gould choked up as he described how firefighters kept Friday night's fire from overtaking the town.

"The streets that lead from campus into Chadron became chimneys with the high winds we were experiencing and the embers blowing into town," Gould said. "We did a phenomenal job between local (volunteer fire departments) and the feds."

Firefighters burned some of the land between Chadron State College and the wildfire to eliminate fuel for the fire and keep it from reaching campus, said Marc Mullenix, the federal incident commander of the fire crews working there.

Sprinklers on the football practice fields were turned on full blast, and that helped provide a buffer between the wildfire and campus buildings, said Con Marshall, the college's sports information director.

The fire that threatened Chadron was moving southwest of town late Saturday afternoon. But Mullenix said a change in wind direction could put the town at risk again.

Elsewhere, a fire northwest of Rapid City, S.D., burned seven houses, officials confirmed Saturday. The fire had consumed about 4.6 square miles and was 80 percent contained; residents of 300 homes who were told to evacuate were allowed to return.

A lightning-caused wildfire near the Oregon border was 85 percent contained Saturday. Strong winds that firefighters feared would blow the blaze into a series of major power lines never materialized.

The blaze was burning a half mile east of California-Oregon Transmission Project power lines and three-quarters of a mile south of lines used by the Western Area Power Administration and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

More than 300 firefighters were battling the blaze, which had charred more than three-quarters of a square mile in mountainous terrain about 200 miles north of Sacramento.

Farther north, a 2.3-square mile wildfire that broke out Saturday in Trinity County prompted authorities to ask hundreds of residents to voluntarily evacuate their homes on the west side of Weaverville. The blaze was approaching dozens of homes but had not damaged any by late Saturday, according to the Weaverville Fire District.

At the south end of the state, a wildfire in the Cleveland National Forest was 90 percent surrounded. The fire about 50 miles east of San Diego was about 26 square miles.

In Washington state, two wildfires were threatening vacation homes near Lake Cushman and Lake Chelan, with hundreds of people waiting for possible evacuation orders, fire officials said.

The fire was burning in the Wenatchee National Forest and the National Park Service's Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

In southwest Montana, a fire six miles southwest of Victor grew to about 2.6 square miles, and officials warned nearby residents to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Firefighters in Oregon continued to battle a wildfire in the central part of the state that has grown to a little more than 7 square miles, officials said Saturday. The fire started from lightning last Sunday and is less than 5 percent contained.

About 500 residents from the Crossroads and Edgington communities near the tourist town of Sisters were evacuated Thursday.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office ordered an evacuation Saturday of another subdivision near Sisters because of the fire, sending more than 1,000 residents from their homes.

"Based upon current weather and fire conditions that include high winds and volatile fuels, we are ordering the evacuation," said Carl West, incident commander of the Northwest Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team.