WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) — Crews in central Washington and Wyoming worked Monday to protect homes from two of the many wildfires burning throughout the West as a destructive fire season stretches into September with no relief expected from the weather anytime soon.
Winds and temperatures remain high in parts of the region, worrying officials who had hoped cooler temperatures and moisture would eventually tamp down the threat. The National Weather service issued red-flag warnings for wide swaths of eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, Montana and all of Wyoming, meaning conditions could exacerbate blazes.
In Wyoming, authorities evacuated 500 people from homes and cabins near Casper, and warned another 1,000 people in the ski resort town of Jackson to be ready to leave.
The Sheep Herder Hill Fire about 10 miles southeast of Casper started Sunday and grew quickly, burning at least six structures overnight and scorching more than 15 square miles of pine forest and sagebrush by Monday afternoon.
State Forester Bill Crapser wasn't sure if any of the structures burned were homes but said even more buildings may have been lost.
Less than two miles south of Jackson, in northwest Wyoming, the Little Horsethief Fire burned about 1,500 acres in a forested, mountainous area. It was 15 percent contained.
In Washington state, rains that fell in the Seattle area after a 48-day dry stretch didn't make it over the Cascade Mountains that divide the state's western and eastern halves, and the forecast was for gusts that could fan the flames of dozens of blazes.
"Winds are starting to kick up," Wenatchee police Sgt. John Kruse said. "That is going to be an issue for firefighters to deal with."
Only a shed has been lost near Wenatchee, and no injuries have been reported at what appeared to be the most-threatening of many wildfires sparked by lightning in the state Saturday.
Residents of about 180 homes on the west side of Wenatchee, about 140 miles east of Seattle, were told to evacuate Sunday, Kruse said, and a shelter was set up at a church because of the 500-acre blaze that continued to burn in the hills. It was so windy that newly arriving crews struggled to set up their tents.
In central Montana, residents of about 350 homes threatened by a wildfire west of Hamilton were told to leave, while an Idaho blaze visible for miles forced closures in the Payette National Forest.
In Central Oregon., people camping and hiking near a blaze spreading in the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters have been evacuated because of the 4,300-acre Pole Creek fire. Four vehicles at a trailhead were destroyed, and several were damaged.
The Pole Creek fire started four miles northeast of North Sister Sunday morning, sending a billowing smoke plume into the sky.
In Northern California, improving weather conditions aided about 1,400 firefighters battling a blaze that is threatening about 300 homes outside of Ukiah.
Blazes have scorched more than 8.1 million acres across the West so far in 2012, up from the 10-year average of 6.1 million, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Mild recent fire seasons combined with moderate winter weather contributed to a buildup of the kind of forest undergrowth that fuels forest fires, said Jeremy Sullens, a wildfire analyst for predictive services at the center. The warm dry summer exacerbated things.
"Finer fuels allow fires to burn more rapidly and have more active fire behavior," Sullens said, adding that the fuels buildup explains why fewer fires have burned more acres altogether.
Fire officials would like to have a wet fall, but Sullens said that's not in the weather forecast for the near future.
Associated Press writers Donna Gordon Blankinship and Doug Esser in Seattle, Matt Volz in Helena, Mont., and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.