US wildfires: Firefighter dies battling California blaze

Authorities say cooler weather, storms and work of thousands of firefighters are giving hope on the US West Coast.

The wildfires on the US West Coast have killed at least 35 people, forced tens of thousands to flee and destroyed thousands of buildings [File: Ringo Chiu/Reuters]

A firefighter has died battling a wildfire in California, the US Fire Service said in a statement on Friday, as officials said improved weather conditions on the west coast of the United States provided some hope the blazes could be contained.

The death happened on Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire, which officials said was sparked by “a smoke generating pyrotechnic device” during a gender-reveal party earlier this month.

The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members were notified, the US Fire Service said, and the cause of the death is under investigation.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time,” Forest Service spokesman Zach Behrens said in the statement.

Officials on Friday said improved weather conditions were aiding their efforts to contain the large blazes.

Overnight, rain in northwest Oregon and humidity over the San Francisco Bay Area bolstered hope for further containment of the dozens of deadly wildfires that have raged for weeks due to tinderbox conditions created by strong winds, lightning and drought.

Cooler, more favourable weather in the region since last week has already dispelled some of the smoky, polluted air and tempered the flames, enabling ground teams with hand tools and bulldozers to regroup and consolidate their gains while also allowing greater use of water-dropping helicopters and aeroplane tankers.

Storms are expected to bring much-needed rain to the hard-hit western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Doug Grafe, fire protection chief for Oregon’s Forestry Department, told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.

He warned, however, strong winds and lightning from those storms could also complicate firefighting efforts and heavy showers could lead to mudslides.

In Washington state, Thomas Kyle-Milward, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, told Reuters “despite thin resources, we’re feeling like we’re making good headway” against the fires.

A key sign of success has been a steady rise in containment, a measure of the buffer lines firefighters carve around the perimeter of each blaze by hacking away unburned vegetation.

The region will face a formidable recovery from the fires, which have burned some 1,294,994 hectares (3.2 million acres) in California since mid-August and another 687,965 hectares (1.7 million acres) in Oregon and Washington state since the beginning of September.

More than 17,000 firefighters are battling more than two dozen major wildfires in California.

Several small towns have largely been incinerated, with thousands of buildings destroyed and at least 35 lives lost: Twenty-six in California, including the firefighter – eight in Oregon, and one in Washington state.

Thousands of evacuees, especially in Oregon, remained huddled in emergency shelters, mobile trailers and hotel rooms.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies