Firefighters in US northwest aided by weather, as winds drive California blaze

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LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) – Firefighters in the Pacific Northwest got a helping hand from cooler, damp weather in their battle against an array of deadly wildfires on Saturday (Sept 19), even as uncooperative winds in Southern California spread another landscape-scorching blaze.

The weather shift, which followed intermittently heavy showers on Friday, helped more than 9,000 personnel fight 29 wildfires across Washington and Oregon, including the Riverside Fire south-east of Portland, the US Forestry Service said.

Firefighters can expect another 5.08-10.16cm of rain in the next week for coastal Oregon and parts of the Cascade Mountains, said Mr David Roth, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Centre in College Park Maryland.

“That’ll be over the next three to seven days, which should at least help,” Mr Roth said.

“Something is better than nothing.”

But even after the rainfall west of the Cascade Mountains, the fire was still feeding on deep layers of long-dead vegetation that is abundant in the western wilderness, a fire report read.

“Rain doesn’t do much to put out the fire unless we get a lot of it,” Incident Commander Alan Sinclair said in a statement.

“But the good news is the cool, damp weather is moderating fire activity and giving us a chance to make progress in containment efforts.”

The Riverside Fire has burned nearly 55,847 hectares and is only 11 per cent contained.

The unusually ferocious wildfires have claimed at least eight lives in Oregon and one in Washington state, blackening 650,000 hectares in the two states since Labour Day and incinerating several small towns.

Oregon emergency management officials have warned the death toll there could climb as search teams scour the ruins of thousands of homes engulfed in flames during chaotic evacuations early in the disaster.

Thousands of evacuees, particularly in Oregon, have been forced into emergency shelters, mobile trailers and hotel rooms.

To the south, flames have charred a record 1.3 million hectares in California, killing 26 people and destroying more than 5,800 structures since mid-August, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

A force of more than 19,000 firefighters made headway against the 27 major blazes they have been battling since August as searing temperatures diminished somewhat, Cal Fire said.

But at least one blaze, the Bobcat Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains north-east of Los Angeles, spread rapidly in high winds leaving more than 36,826 hectares scorched, it said.

The cause of the fire, which has containment lines set up only on 15 per cent of its perimeter, is being investigated, it added.

Winds remain a threat, with forecasts for gusts up to 40kmh amid very low humidity, it said.

Mr Roth, at the Weather Prediction Centre, said that there is almost no rain in sight for California.

“There’s very little for California, maybe some in the far north near the Oregon border,” he said.

Despite the moderating temperatures in the south, weather in the northern part of the state is forecast to return to a warm, dry pattern, and warming conditions throughout the state early next week are expected to bring elevated fire danger, it said.

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