Cooler and wetter weather in the Northwest will be good news for those fighting several wildfires in the region.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed Thursday a record $243 million was spent last week combatting wildfires raging around the country.
The U.S. Forest Service has been forced to borrow funds from forest restoration work, normally used to reduce the risk of wildfires, as it has already spent all the money allotted by Congress for its 12-month budget. Vilsack noted this has happened the past six of 10 years.
Much to his chagrin, Vilsack said the agency will likely be forced to borrow more funds and continue to expect spending $200 million a week battling the blazes.
Firefighters have been making more gains on two massive wildfires burning in north-central Washington.
As of late Thursday night, the Okanogan Complex was 60 percent contained but has grown to nearly 150,000 acres. Last week, it became the largest wildfire in state history.
Officials are managing the complex of fires as one fire, including the Chelan Complex. That particular fire was 70 percent contained and had burned more than 93,000 acres as of Thursday night.
Nearly 2,000 firefighters are working on the two big fire complexes that have burned more than 140 residences. Many other residents are still under evacuation notices.
Fire officials say they are both building lines around the fires and mopping up inside their borders.
Wildfires have taken their toll on the Western landscape this year. They’ve reduced entire neighborhoods to ash, forced thousands to evacuate and required a nonstop battle from countless firefighters, some who have come from other countries to help.
And there’s no indication that fire season is letting up at all.
More than 8.2 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s well above the 10-year average of about 5.57 million acres through Sept. 2. As the Washington Post notes, that’s larger than the total area of Maryland.
There has also been a human toll during this fire season. Five firefighters have been killed in the line of duty this year, according to Wildfire Today. A year ago, there were 10 wildfire-related firefighter deaths, NIFC reported.
There are currently dozens of large wildfires burning across the West; here’s an update on a few of them.
A massive Butte fire burned more than 50,000 acres across the counties of Amador and Calaveras near Sacramento.
The blaze has already destroyed 6 structures and was only 10% contained as of September 11. Evacuations were ordered for both counties and over 1,500 fire personnel were dispatched to fight the growing fire.
Officials reported that the steep topography in the area mixed with harsh weather conditions is making the fire grow at an unprecedented rate.
Firefighters battling a destructive wildfire near John Day are allowing people who have been evacuated for weeks to return to their homes.
The last evacuation alerts were lifted Wednesday, but residents in several neighborhoods were told to be ready to leave on short notice.
The fire has destroyed 43 homes and burned more than 165 square miles. It is 52 percent contained.
Crews focused Wednesday on containing spot fires that broke out beyond the containment lines during a period of hotter temperatures and lower humidity Tuesday. They were hopeful that cooler, more humid conditions Wednesday would allow firefighters to control the flames and strengthen their containment lines.
Fire crews are aggressively working to prevent flames from expanding on a 3-week-old blaze in west-central Idaho that has already burned 143 square miles of dry timber.
More than 900 firefighters are battling the fire, but it was only 30 percent contained. It’s burning in terrain surrounded by large amounts of unburned fuel.
Crews focused their efforts Wednesday on protecting structures along the Salmon River corridor, and rafters were still being stopped and evacuated before entering the fire perimeter.
In northern Idaho, flames crept overnight as close as a mile and a half to the historic Fenn Ranger Station, causing mandatory evacuations.
Idaho currently has 17 large fires, the most in the nation, the National Interagency Fire Center says.
A firefighter working to battle a wildfire north of Helena has been hospitalized after an ATV crash.
The Helena Independent Record reports that the injured man was adjusting hoses in steep terrain Wednesday at the time of the accident. A nearby firefighter/EMT helped with emergency care before the man was taken to a medical facility in Helena.
A Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokeswoman declined to comment on how the accident occurred. Officials have not released the injured man’s name.