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Crews battle fierce flames across the West



BOISE, Idaho (CNN) -- Thousands of firefighters battled blazes in 10 Western states on Saturday, struggling to keep ahead of flames that have already scorched more than 600,000 acres.

"We contained three large fires but we also had three new ones, so we're kind of maintaining," said Nancy Lull, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

The worst fires were burning in Oregon and Washington, but other fires continued in California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Officials said there were 33 major fires.

Fire officials issued a "red flag warning" for northeast California with strong winds and low humidity levels expected.

Winds and low humidity also prompted fire weather watches in other Western states. Eastern Montana and Utah expected dry lightning and thunderstorms during the day.

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A total of 22,650 firefighters were working on the blazes Saturday, said Davida Carnahan, a NIFC information officer.

"Between Washington and Oregon, there will be approximately 5,000 firefighters on the ground this afternoon," she said. "Washington state is definitely getting the worst of the fire activity. The wind and the weather conditions are fanning fuels in very dry, dry conditions."

Military battalions to help fight fires

Among the equipment in use were four military C-130 planes, each carrying 3,000-gallon pressurized tanks of fire retardant.

Officials expect to deploy two Regular Army battalions next week to help fight fires in Washington's Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, where four separate large fires were burning Saturday.

About 150 structures were threatened in the Okanogan National Forest, where the Tonasket Complex fire had grown to about 2,470 acres Saturday.

The blaze slipped into the Colville Indian Reservation thanks to strong westerly winds, said fire information officer Kristy Longanecker.

The Rex Creek Complex fire, burning northwest of Lake Chelan, measured about 22,000 acres Saturday and was not contained. The NIFC said fire along the lake's shores forced crews to enter the area by water, hampering containment efforts.

Officials in Washington's Okanogan County declared a state of emergency as the 50,070-acre Virginia Lake Complex burned nearby. It was 35 percent contained Saturday.

The fire claimed nine homes earlier in the week, and it was threatening the historic St. Mary's Mission and a residential area of about 70 to 100 homes.

"Today we're out in the field, actually going door to door preparing people as the fire moves through that area," said Penny Hulse, a fire information officer.

The fourth fire, the 6,000-acre Brewster Complex fire, was about 50 percent contained Saturday.

The fires forced the evacuation of residents of 138 homes on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountain Range, said Carnahan.

'Pretty good day' in Oregon

Flames from the 4,000-acre Icicle Complex fire, still not contained, crept to within six miles of the alpine-themed tourist town of Leavenworth, Washington, Saturday.

"We're doing fine," said Bill Taylor, executive director of Leavenworth's Chamber of Commerce. "The fire is no closer today than it was yesterday or the day before. They expected or feared very high winds last night, and they didn't get them."

Residents of about 20 or 30 homes in nearby Icicle Canyon were evacuated because of the fire, he said, but the town remained safe.

"The fire is not threatening anything else other than that canyon," he said.

Carnahan said Oregon had a "pretty good day" Friday and firefighters were able to make good progress.

"In fact, we anticipate reassigning some of the resources that were in Oregon to Washington state," she said.

The Monument Complex fire, measuring more than 24,000 acres about three miles north of the town of Monument, was 15 percent contained Saturday with full containment expected Monday.






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