Fire planning level raised amid blazes |

Fire planning level raised amid blazes

DENVER ” National fire managers went to their highest preparedness level on Tuesday amid hot, dry weather across the West and several blazes in California that are drawing firefighters from other states.

The change means the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, can call for international or military assistance if needed.

So far this year, 4,661 fires in California have scorched 351,231 acres, drawing about 250 firefighters from the Rocky Mountain region.

Many of those fires are on steep and difficult terrain, said Steve Segin of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center in Lakewood, which coordinates firefighting in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska.

“It’s what I like to call ‘Bigfoot Country.’ It’s dark, thick and hard to get into,” he said.

“You have let the fire come out and get to a point where you can get a line around.

Those fires can burn for weeks and weeks.”

One California fire, burning near the tourist community of Big Sur, was started by lightning more than a week ago and is still just 3 percent contained.

The elevated preparedness level allows fire managers to call for firefighters from Australia, Canada, or New Zealand.

U.S. Army soldiers or Marines may also be asked to exchange rifles for picks, shovels or axes to help corral wildfires.

Such help is usually not needed until the beginning of August, but the preparedness level was raised earlier this year because of the California fires.

The military has already provided eight C-130 cargo planes outfitted to drop hundreds of gallons of fire retardant.

The fire danger is listed as moderate in the Rocky Mountain Region, where more than 600 wildfires have scorched 116,130 acres this year.

Colorado has had the most, with 339 fires covering 89,956 acres, and an average of 15 new fires daily, mostly from lightning, according to Segin.

The greatest danger is in western Colorado, which was under a Red Flag warning Tuesday because dry, hot, windy weather provides ripe conditions for wildfires.

The Fourth of July also has fire managers worried.

“It doesn’t take much,” Segin said.

“Even a sparkler in dry grass and a little bit of wind and it’s going to take off.”

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