Firefighters across the West said their resources were severely strained as flames closed roads and threatened towns, including an Oregon ranching community where 150 people prepared for the possibility of evacuation.
The 6,000–acre (2,400–hectare) blaze was burning Wednesday within three miles (five kilometers) of Monument in the high desert, about 270 miles (435 kilometers) east of Portland, the state capital. Several homes were evacuated overnight, and other town residents stood by waiting for word on whether they would have to leave.
"The smoke is so thick you can't see two blocks," said Bill Kennedy, a resident who has worked on fire crews in the past. "As it gets hotter, and the wind picks up, it's going to get worse."
The weather forecast was still calling for possible thunderstorms in the region, which was bad news for firefighters. Lightning was believed to have caused many fires in the West.
Most fires in the West spread quickly through parched land. The air is so dry across most of the region that rain never reaches the ground.
The National Interagency Fire Center on Wednesday placed the West at Level Five alert status, which it does when firefighters are in danger of running out of people and equipment to fight fires. The agency coordinates firefighting across the country.
The declaration allows fire managers to bring in crews from across the nation and tap the military for help if necessary. The last Level Five was last summer, when wildfires burned across a million acres (0.4 million hectares) in the state of Montana.
"We are stretched pretty thin on helicopters, air tankers," said Nancy Lull, a spokeswoman for the fire center in Boise, Idaho. "Our crews are starting to stretch a little thinner."
Homes and cabins in the northwestern state of Washington were threatened by fires burning across thousands of acres (hectares) of grass, sagebrush and timber.
In California, crews 290 miles (470 kilometers) northeast of Sacramento fought to keep a roughly 28,000–acre (11,200–hectare) fire from spreading to two communities Wednesday. The fire was only 10 percent contained, and full containment wasn't expected until Aug. 22, said Wayne Chandler, a fire information officer.
An 82,000–acre (32,800–hectare) grass and brush fire in central Nevada had been contained, and crews turned their attention to a nearby 11,000–acre (4,400–hectare) fire.Reuse content