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Crews Are Containing Western Wildfires, But More Bad Weather's Ahead


Crews are making steady progress on a number of wildfires burning in the West which is in the midst of a terrible drought. The fire known as the Carlton Complex in Washington state has been the most destructive, burning about 400 square miles of land, making it the largest in that state's history. The fire has consumed more than 300 homes and miles of critical infrastructure. Fire officials are hoping to fully contain that fire in the coming week before more fires start. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: There are more than 3,000 firefighters on the Carlton Complex, plowing fire line, cooling hotspots and trying to get a handle on a fire that's been tearing through the forest and grazing pastures of North Central Washington for two weeks. Pete Buist is a public information officer on the fire. He says that fire crews are making good headway but they've still got a big task ahead of them.

PETE BUIST: You're talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 miles of perimeter, and so there's a lot of perimeter to try and hang on to. And it's getting hotter and drier.

ROTT: Hotter and drier with more lightning in the forecast. Larry Van Bussum is with the National Weather Service's Fire Operations Program. He says that a high pressure ridge lingering over the West is mixing with monsoonal moisture. That's typical for the area this time of year. The result is a high potential for thunderstorms along the eastern edge of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada - from Washington all the way down to California.

LARRY VAN BUSSUM: Which gets such hot, dry air underneath that anything that rains out of these thunderstorms just gets dried out before it ever hits the ground.

ROTT: Van Bussum says that potential for dry lightning could stay into September. That's particularly worrisome for California where more than 80 percent of the state is in extreme drought. And firefighters are already busy battling two wildfires near Sacramento and Yosemite National Park. There have been more than 3,600 wildfires in California so far this year - more than a thousand fires over the average. But so far, fire crews have been able to jump on most of them before they get big. Nationally, the picture is a little better. About 1.6 million acres have burned nationwide so far this year. That's less than half of the 10-year average. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.