Wildfires in the West: Containment grows in California, Oregon; new fire erupts in Wyoming; Idaho firefighter killed in plane crash

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on wildfire news in the West. Here is the latest for the week starting Sept. 21, 2020. Photo courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Firefighters are beginning to make headway as dozens of major wildfires continue to burn millions of acres across the region.

In California, as of Sept. 23, the 363,220-acre LNU Lightning Complex and 396,624-acre SCU Lightning Complex fires have both reached 98% containment, according to Capital Public Radio. The Bobcat Fire, which has burned 113,000 acres north of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains, has reached 38% containment.

Other incidents still threatening the state include the Creek Fire (289,695 acres, 34% contained), the North Complex (301,752 acres, 78% contained), and the August Complex (860,118 acres, 45% contained). Since the beginning of the season, more than 3.6 million acres in California have been lost to approximately 8,000 wildfires, destroying 6,600 structures and leading to at least 26 fatalities.

With more than 1,000 miles of containment lines in place, firefighters in Oregon have also gained traction against a series of devastating blazes, thanks in part to favorable weather conditions.

"With frontal winds bringing widespread moisture across the state, we are now entering a new phase of this fight," said Gov. Kate Brown. "Three of the big fires, Obenchain, Brattain and the 242 Fire are contained to the point that we are returning the fire response back to the local district. This is really good news."

Among the remaining incidents are the Lionshead Fire (203,685 acres, 15% contained), the Beachie Creek Fire (192,828 acres, 46% contained), the Holiday Farm Fire (173,094 acres, 27% contained), the Riverside Fire (138,027 acres, 31% contained), and the Archie Creek Fire (131,598 acres, 52% contained). As of Sept. 24, KGW8 reports that about 1 million acres have burned in total, leading to at least nine deaths and 3,859 destroyed structures.

Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, fires in Washington, which have burned more than 700,000 acres this season, have been largely contained, including the 223,000-acre Pearl Hill Fire – the largest in the region – now at 94% containment. According to NCW Life, however, fire danger still remains high.  

In Colorado, the largest-in-state-history Pine Gulch Fire, burning 139,007 acres, was 100% contained as of Sept. 23, 9News reports. The Grizzly Creek Fire, which previously forced a temporary closure of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, is holding steady at 32,431 acres and 91% containment.

According to Fox 21, other fires burning in the state include the Cameron Peak Fire (104,658 acres, 17% contained), the Middle Fork Fire (6,187 acres, 0% contained), and the Williams Fork Fire (12,320 acres, 16% contained).

In Montana, officials report that 1,876 fires have burned more than 406 square miles this year, racking up a $10 million price tag and destroying some 50 homes, Montana Public Radio reports. Of those fires, 75% have been human caused.

New Fires Emerge

As containment grows elsewhere in the West, a new, nearly-20,000 acre fire has erupted in Wyoming, according to The Casper Star-Tribune.

The Mullen Fire, threatening 17,800 acres of wilderness west of Laramie, is currently only 2% contained. Officials say that high winds, temperatures, and low humidity mean that the incident has considerable potential to spread over the next 24 hours.

Approximately 300 firefighters are working to control the blaze, which has prompted evacuation and pre-evacuation orders for several surrounding counties. No structures have been lost as of the morning of Sept. 24.

Utah firefighters have been dealing with new fire activity as well, as smaller incidents emerged in Utah, Beaver and Salt Lake Counties this week. Currently, the largest active incident in the state is the East Fork Fire, which has grown to 67,006 acres and 26% containment since it began in late August.

In Idaho, a Bureau of Land Management tanker pilot was killed on Sept. 22 after his plane crashed near Emmett, KMVT 11 reports. The pilot, Ricky Fulton, was fighting the 25-acre Schill Fire when the incident occurred.

“Our hearts are heavy. The death of a firefighter is felt deeply and emotionally in the firefighting community,” said Gov. Brad Little. “Pray for comfort for the pilot’s family and colleagues, and please do your part to prevent needless wildfires. I am ordering American flags and State of Idaho flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the brave firefighter who lost his life protecting others.”

Click here for the latest wildfire updates in your state.

Learn more about WGA’s policy work to prevent and combat wildfire in the West.

ICYMI: COVID-19 in the West: A state-by-state breakdown of the Governors’ work (updated weekly)

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