Wash. residents go home near fire, still 'on edge'
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — As hundreds of residents in Washington and California were allowed to return to homes once threatened by major wildfires, some people were told to evacuate as encroaching blazes neared Idaho towns.
The towns of Pine and Featherville remained in the path of a 113-square-mile wildfire that has been burning for two weeks. Authorities had been asking residents to prepare to leave.
"It's a very active, very dangerous fire," said fire information officer Steve Till. Crews "were prepared for it but civilians are probably much better not being here."
Till said Friday that projections show the fire could reach the towns within 24 to 36 hours. The blaze has also stranded the tiny town of Atlanta to the north because the roads leading in and out of it were under threat, he said.
Authorities also warned residents to leave ahead of a nearing wildfire in Custer County. The sheriff's office told some residents that if they did not evacuate by Friday evening, officials could not guarantee their safety.
To the west, many residents in Washington state were returning to the south and east sides of a 35-square mile blaze near the town of Cle Elum in the Cascade Range, about 75 miles east of Seattle. That fire burned out of control for much of the week, destroying burned 48 residential properties and 15 other structures on the east side of the Cascades.
"Some people will find their homes there and others will find homes damaged or even lost," said Mick Mueller, a spokesman at the fire command center.
About 900 firefighters and eight helicopters were still building a line around the fire, which started Monday at a bridge construction project and exploded through dry grass, brush and trees. More than 400 people fled their homes.
"The folks will have to be working among fallers dropping hazardous trees and utility crews working to get the power back on in there," Mueller said. "And firefighters are still working in there trying to put out hot spots."
Fire danger remained high in the area, with hot, dry weather and a chance for storms and lightning expected Saturday evening.
"We're kind of on edge about that," Mueller said.
Crews in California made progress on some of the nearly dozen wildfires burning across that state. About 400 residents were allowed to return home in a rural area of San Diego County in the southern part of the state.
Flames came within a half-mile of some houses but none burned in the communities of Ranchita and San Felipe.
Associated Press writers Doug Esser in Seattle and Jessie L. Bonner in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.