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Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2000

Western wildfires test residents’ resolve

July 30, 2000

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— Some residents in the rustic mountain village of Kennedy Meadows moved their livestock and left their homes Saturday as smoke and flames from a 37,500-acre blaze filled the sky.

Flames had charred pine forest and brush just east of Sequoia National Forest, destroying two outbuildings and an abandoned Boy Scout lodge.

Firefighters also spent their weekend on the fire lines elsewhere across the West in what has become the nation's worst fire season since 1996.

Firefighters had contained only 10 percent of the mammoth blaze in the rugged Sierra Nevadas and said they would be unable to surround it until Aug. 10. No homes had burned.

Farther south, a fire that began Saturday afternoon consumed 800 acres of heavy brush, some of it more than a century old, on the Pechanga Indian Reservation in the Cleveland National Forest.

The fire threatened 20 to 50 cabins at the Woodchuck Campground, which was evacuated. About 500 firefighters were working in 100-degree heat, aided by bulldozers and 10 air tankers and helicopters, said Joanne Evans, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry-Riverside County Fire Departments.

At Kennedy Meadows, at least a half-dozen hardy residents moved their horses, dogs, and mobile home trailers to safety, then returned to hang out at the only store in town. Exactly how many people left was not immediately clear.

Leona Hansen said she stayed open because her Kennedy Meadows General Store is the only place with telephones.

Some firefighters stopped by her porch for a cool drink, she said.

"We're waiting for them to say, 'This is it. Get out of here.' And when they do, we'll be out of here in a flash. We're not going to be heroes," Hansen said.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order Thursday, but some residents opted to stay in the isolated area, where generators are the only source of power and telephone service was first installed less than a year ago.

Some landowners who were away even returned home upon learning of the fire, Kern County fire Capt. Tomas Patlan said.

People who defy the order are warned that law enforcement can no longer protect them, Patlan said.

Only 43 people live in the area full time. Many of the homes are weekend getaways for urban dwellers.

Jan Gant, who owns Grumpy Bear's, a log cabin-style restaurant, was busy serving breakfast Saturday morning. She never had time to evacuate.

"I was feeding the firefighters. The closer the fire got, the faster I cooked."

Elsewhere in the West, crews fighting a huge blaze in Idaho placed protective wrapping on historic buildings in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, including the Leesburg gold mining town, one of the state's first settlements.

That fire near the Montana state line was moving about a mile a day and had charred 60,000 acres.

Another Idaho fire, which burned onto the grounds of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, was contained at 30,000 acres.

An enormous range fire in northeastern Nevada raged largely unchecked Saturday, having charred at least 54,000 acres, and officials warned of gusty wind and triple-digit temperatures.

Crews in Utah worked Saturday to put out dozens of wildfires that had blackened about 35,000 acres. Flames of a 1,000-acre blaze about 31 miles south of Salt Lake City, in South Fork and Bear Canyon, were within sight of several homes.

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