TWENTY-SIX major fires blackening some 148,000 acres were razging in the western United States Tuesday, and fire officials predicted the worst may be yet to come.
The damage from this year's fire season, encompassing an area one-fifth the size of Rhode Island, is now about 50,000 acres ahead of last year's pace, according to officials at the Boise Interagency Fire Center.
More than 10,000 firefighters are battling blazes in California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Numerous homes have been lost, and hundreds of people have been evacuated.
More hot weather is forecast, and gusty winds and lightning are expected to fan the biggest blazes in Wyoming, southern Oregon, and Idaho.
"That could cause the fires to make a major run," predicted Debie Chivers at the Fire Center.
The worst fires include those in Idaho, where a total of 96,000 acres are burning in range fires in the central state and in mature timber forests in the Boise National Forest. High winds are expected to worsen fires burning in rural areas.
Six homes were lost in a fire Monday night near the town of Bellevue and a grasslands fire in the southeastern part of the state spread to 50,000 acres.
In Oregon, a 9,600-acre fire continued to rage through the night Monday, searing through thick, dry stands of ponderosa pine in the Winema National Forest.
"It's basically burning at will as it has been for the past two days," said Ralph Satterberg, a US Forest Service spokesman.
Heavy smoke prevented fire fighters from getting ahead of the blaze to build fire breaks, forcing fire fighters to work on the flanks and rear of the blaze.