September 23, 2012 in City

Wildfire crews wary of lightning

Associated Press

WENATCHEE – Firefighters battling large blazes in Central Washington were on alert Saturday, as possible dry lightning storms and erratic winds had the potential to ignite new blazes or whip up existing ones.

In Idaho, the Department of Environmental Quality has issued an outdoor burning ban in every county in the state due to wildfire smoke that is making for poor air quality. The ban will be re-evaluated Monday for each county.

Isolated or scattered lightning storms were possible into Saturday evening, and a red flag warning in Central Washington was in effect until early today, said Steven Van Horn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It’s not going to take a lot of lightning to get fires started,” he warned.

Thousands of firefighters have been working to steer fires away from scattered hillside homes and entire communities for weeks now. The fires are burning on 143 square miles of parched forest, brush and grass. And residents of 161 homes north of Ellensburg have been urged to leave because of fires.

“We’re watching this minute by minute, hour by hour,” said Jim Gumm, a spokesman for the Table Mountain fire, one of several wildfires burning on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range. That fire was threatening to merge with another large blaze southwest of Wenatchee.

Alan Hoffmeister, a spokesman for the Wenatchee Complex fire, said firefighters were focusing Saturday on the interfaces of those two fires and trying to box them in rather than trying to keep them apart.

Firefighters have been able to stabilize blazes burning closest to the cities of Wenatchee, Chelan and Cashmere, and are focusing on the upper country in the hills south of Wenatchee.

State officials are advising residents to stay indoors, limit physical activity and keep doors and windows closed.

In Idaho, the smoke comes from wildfires including the 180-square-mile Halstead Fire north of Stanley and the 70-square-mile Sheep Fire north of Riggins.

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