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Growing wildfires in the West fed by windy, dry conditions

SAN SIMEON, Calif. -- Growing wildfires fed by windy, dry conditions have destroyed buildings and forced evacuations in central California, eastern Washington, Oregon and elsewhere.

Crews in both states fought to contain the blazes Monday, with firefighters making headway in the Golden State while authorities counted at least 16 homes burned in the Northwest.

Here’s a look at major wildfires in the West:



A growing wildfire in central California had charred over 50 square miles by Monday, while a destructive blaze in Southern California was mostly under control.

Nearly 1,900 structures were threatened by a blaze in coastal San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, where more than 2,400 people were under evacuation orders.

WATCH: Pine needles ignite without a flame 01:17

Despite its being well over a week old, the fire surged with new activity on Monday and threatened to jump the lines that were containing it, though by day’s end containment remained at 35 percent.

The fire has destroyed 34 homes and 14 other buildings.

Eighty miles up the coast, California’s biggest fire grew to nearly 135 square miles in rugged wilderness coast along Highway 1 north of Big Sur.

More than 400 homes remained threatened by the fire.

Meanwhile, a 58-square-mile fire that destroyed 105 homes in Southern California was almost entirely contained and all evacuation orders were lifted.

While firefighters in Southern California work around the clock to control the flames, scientists hundreds of miles away are waging a different sort of battle -- the one to fully understand how these blazes spread, CBS News’ Carter Evans reported

“There is an expression that everyone uses here in the U.S., ‘spreads like wildfire,’ yet we don’t even know how wildfires spread,” said Mark Finney, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Researchers: Wildfires aren't being fought correctly 02:39

The U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana, houses a burn chamber to designed specifically to answer that question.

Researchers are dissecting a wildfire by measuring how fast pine needles burn and how a fire can propel itself, even without wind.

The Forest Service spent an unprecedented $1.7 billion fighting fires that burned a record of 10.1 million acres in 2015. But Finney’s research shows that putting out every fire may not be working.

“By fighting these fires, we unfortunately enter what’s called the fire paradox, and that is the harder you try to suppress them, the worse they get when they do happen,” Finney said.

Under normal conditions, wildfires will thin out forests. But by constantly putting the fires out, more unburned brush is left to fuel the next one.

Finney said that firefighters should be intentionally setting more so-called prescribed fires to burn off excess vegetation, or simply let some natural fires burn longer.  

In a statement to CBS News, the U.S. Forest Service said it “agrees that managed and prescribed fires are important tools,” but “our capacity to complete this work is restricted by the budget” allocated by Congress.  

The agency also said there are liability issues with state and local governments, as more developers are pushing to build homes closer to fire-prone areas.

“Fire is inevitable. If we convince ourselves that it’s not, then we essentially have a repeat every year of the same situation,” Finney said.

For now, scientists hope that setting controlled fires in the lab will help them better understand how to manage them in the forest.



Wildfires in the Spokane area have burned more than a dozen homes and forced evacuations.

One blaze west of the eastern Washington city had destroyed at least six homes and scorched more than 9 square miles by Monday morning, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Nearly 100,000 acres destroyed by fires 01:43

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said 11 structures were destroyed near the town of Davenport, a figure that includes homes, garages and outbuildings.

The fire jumped the Spokane River and threatened the small community of Wellpinit on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Residents were told to evacuate after the town lost power.

Another wildfire, south of Spokane near the town of Spangle, destroyed at least 10 homes and numerous other buildings Sunday, according to the Washington State Patrol.

A third blaze was burning on the northeast side of the city. That fire had scorched 250 acres, and officials said some homes were likely destroyed.



The largest fire in Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming grew to about 35 square miles amid windy, warm weather, but tourists could still visit the popular park during the busy summer season.

All the park’s main tourist facilities and roads were open Monday, although the fire was creeping toward a key road linking the West Entrance with the park’s interior.

The blaze has charred mostly remote forest between West Yellowstone, Montana, a border town just outside the park’s western boundary, and the Madison Junction recreational area within the park.

The flames expanded by nearly 10 square miles Sunday. It’s one of four fires burning in Yellowstone, and warm, windy weather was expected again Monday.



Authorities ordered people in a rural area of northwestern Montana to evacuate before dawn Monday after a wildfire doubled in size in one day.

The Sanders County Sheriff’s Office told people to leave their homes outside the small town of Thompson Falls. Wind gusts of up to 40 mph were expected to blow across the dry, hot terrain, stoking extreme fire behavior.

Some 20 homes and other buildings were threatened, and other residents were told that the evacuation area may spread.

Some 317 firefighters are responding to the blaze, which grew by 4½ square miles Sunday to nearly 11 square miles.



A wildfire spotted Sunday afternoon in eastern Oregon has quickly become one of the state’s largest active blazes.

Fire officials say the fire has scorched nearly 50 square miles of brush and grass near the Idaho state line. Officials say the fire’s size was reduced from 80 square miles due to better mapping.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman Larry Moore says the wildfire is burning two miles east of the Owyhee Reservoir, and it’s threatening Succor Creek State Park.

One hundred firefighters battled the fire Monday morning. Forecasters were expecting afternoon wind gusts of 25 mph.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

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