Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raging Wildfires Leave Hellish Scars Drought, Record Heat Fan Flames in 8 States

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raging Wildfires Leave Hellish Scars Drought, Record Heat Fan Flames in 8 States

Article excerpt

Drive along the Entiat River and still find pockets of paradise, where ponderosa pines, their green branches singing with birds, lean over sparkling creeks.

But heaven turns to hell up Mud Creek Road. A forest of black sticks rises from smoldering ground. Charred carcasses of cows rot in the 90-degree heat.

"I can't tell you what a beautiful little place this was here," Joe Kelly said Saturday, surveying what remained of his 40-acre spread after a wildfire swept through on Wednesday.

His log cabin was spared, wetted down by firefighters' hoses. But a lilac bush by the back porch was baked to a crisp, and the barn, guest cabin and a hillside of pines were destroyed.

"This canyon was filled with structures," he said. "Some of them burned, and some of them didn't. Why?"

Across the West, extreme drought and record temperatures are helping fan blazes to a fury that surprises veteran firefighters. With more hot, dry weather predicted this month, many nervous residents search the smoke-filled sky and wonder if they'll be next in the fire's path.

As of Sunday, wildfires have blackened 1.9 million acres nationwide this year, more than burned all last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Most of that acreage is in the West, where the fire season can stretch into October.

"This has the potential for being one of the most critical fire seasons we've ever had," said Arnold Hartigan, fire center spokesman. "It's not that any particular fire is so big. It's just that there are so many, and they're so widespread."

The fire that roared through Kelly's property was the largest of 26 major fires being battled Sunday by more than 14,000 firefighters in eight Western states, according to the fire center. The fire charred more than 90,000 acres of the forested eastern slopes of the Cascade Range and burned 19 homes near the towns of Chelan and Entiat.

A fast-spreading fire about 20 miles to the southwest burned about 19,000 acres and destroyed 18 structures, mostly homes, near the Bavarian-theme tourist town of Leavenworth. …

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