Wildfires in the West: New incidents emerge in California, Pacific Northwest; Colorado and Montana aided by cool, moist temperatures

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on wildfire news in the West. Here is the latest for the week starting Sept. 7, 2020. Photo: San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge cloaked in wildfire smoke. Courtesy of SF Gate.

Wildfires continue to scorch the West, leading to at least seven fatalities as of Sept. 10.

In California, where more than 2.5 million acres have burned, nearly 15,000 firefighters are racing to control hundreds of fires across the state, according to CBS News. The SCU Lightning Complex, which has burned more than 396,000 acres, was 95% contained as of Sept. 8, and the LNU Lightning Complex, which has burned more than 375,000 acres, was 91% contained.

The Creek Fire, which erupted Sept. 4, is already the third-largest active incident in the state, burning approximately 175,893 acres – uncontained – as of Sept. 10, reports Eyewitness News. Evacuation orders have been issued for approximately 45,000 residents in Fresno and Madera Counties, and National Guard helicopters were dispatched to rescue dozens of people stranded in China Peak and Lake Edison.

"We talk about grit. We talk about determination. We talk about people that are committed to their job," Gov. Gavin Newsom said of the rescue operations in a press conference. "That was demonstrated by an act of real courage over the course of the weekend."

Oregon has been devastated by wildfire as well, with approximately 500 square miles worth of blazes forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes, according to The Oregonian. The fires stretch from Medford to Portland along Interstate 5, which includes many of the state’s major population centers.

Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency, predicting the Beaver State “will likely experience the greatest loss of property and lives from wildfires in its history.”

Among Oregon’s largest are the Santiam and Lionshead fires, which now cover over 260,000 acres and have all but destroyed Gates, a city of 500 near the border of Marion and Linn Counties. Smaller, but equally devastating fires have ripped through Jackson, Clackamas, Lane, Lincoln, Washington, and Yamhill Counties, as well as the Mount Hood National Forest.

In neighboring Washington, the Cold Springs Fire has burned 163,000 acres, reaching 10% containment as of Sept. 10, Newsweek reports. The Pearl Hill Fire (41% contained) has burned 174,000 acres, the Inchelium Complex Fire (20% contained) has burned 14,756 acres, and the Sumner Grade Fire (20% contained) has burned 800 acres.

The property damage from these fires has been considerable, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency. In Malden, a small town about 35 miles outside of Spokane, approximately 80% of homes and buildings have been destroyed, according to CNN, including the fire station, post office, city hall and library.

Colorado, on the other hand, has seen its luck turn for the better, as cold weather and precipitation – including both snow and rain – aided firefighters this week.

The Cameron Fire, which flared up on Sept. 6, darkening skies in Fort Collins and Denver, was covered with as much as 14 inches of snow on Tuesday (Sept. 8). While the storm did not douse the 102,596-acre blaze – now the fourth largest in state history and only 4% contained – it enabled crews to take a more direct attack in fighting the fire.

Additionally, CPR News reports that the 139,007-acre, largest-in-state-history Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction is now 95% contained, and the 32,464-acre Grizzly Creek Fire just outside Glenwood Springs is now 91% contained.

Unseasonably cool and moist weather has lent Montana firefighters a helping hand as well, as crews struggle to control the most dangerous and destructive fires of the season, according to The Great Falls Tribune. As of Sept. 9, the Bridger Foothills Fire still threatens roughly 100 structures in Bozeman, the Bobcat Fire has burned 30,000 acres, destroying at least 10 structures so far, and the State Creek Fire has burned 2,354 acres, destroying two structures and threatening 22 more.

Over the weekend, The RR 316 Fire in Wyoming forced the evacuation of nearby Hanna, Oil City News reports. Residents were able to return Sept. 6 to a mostly intact town, with the exception of a water treatment plant, which was lost to the roughly 15,000-acre, 20% contained blaze.

Earlier this week, a smaller fire forced evacuations along a rural highway in Idaho. According to Idaho News 6, the Bonner County Sheriff's Office issued the order on Sept. 8, as the fire reached about 700 acres.

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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