Western wildfires spiral out of control

(CBS News) CLE ELUM, Wash. - We may be headed to the worst summer ever for wildfires. And there is a huge, new fire burning Tuesday night east of Seattle. About 40,000 fires so far this year have burned up more than 6 million acres, mainly in the West. That's a million more than average.There are more than 60 larges fire burning out of control. The fire east of Seattle swept across 26,000 acres in a matter of hours.

The smoke is darkening the hillsides in western Washington State and these winds are not helping firefighters. They've been trying to battle this blaze for a day and a half now, and they're doing all they can just to keep up.

You can see giant towers of smoke like this one on many of the hillsides here in this part of western Washington State. The fire started Monday afternoon and has been spreading so fast firefighters can't keep up.

Overnight, the fire exploded, driven by nearly 40 mph winds.

Wildfire rips through miles of central Wash.
1 death, several close calls as firefighters battle Western blazes

"This is one of the homes that we saw over there that is clearly on fire," said a chopper pilot.

At least 60 homes in and around Cle Elum have been swallowed by walls of flame. About 500 people have been forced to leave their homes.

"I think it's very frightening," said a woman in a car. "People are pulling together and trying to help each other get by, because nobody knows where this wildfire is going."

Firefighters are scrambling to keep up with the blaze that is moving at 25 mph.

"This fire is definitely when you hear zero percent containment," said Rex Reed, the incident commander. "This thing could go in any one direction. I mean, it could go south, it could go north. We're very concerned about that."

It's been three weeks since it rained in the region, so there is plenty of dry brush. The fire is believed to have started Monday afternoon at a bridge under construction.

Some homeowners have fled and others set their animals free.

"Their ranch is like burning up around them," said a woman with a horse. "We already let them loose -- they were trapped in the barn. We thought they'd be better loose."

This fire is just one of several threatening communities in the West. In northern California, 1,000 firefighters are battling a pair of fires that have been burning for two days now, scorching 5,000 acres and forcing 500 homes to be evacuated near Lake County, California.

The National Guard is now in Washington State with its water-dropping helicopters. As the flames move from forested areas into more grassy lands, firefighters are hoping that will allow them to finally contain it. They're hope is do that before it moves closer to the town of Ellensburg, which is just a few miles down the road.

  • Ben Tracy

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