Crews battle wildfires raging across four Western U.S. states

Western wildfires June 2015
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Crews battle wildfires raging across four Western U.S. states
MT. HAMILTON, CA - JUNE 03: A Cal Fire firefighter practices extinguishing a grass fire during a live fire training on June 3, 2015 in Mt. Hamilton, California. Cal Fire firefighters are training ahead of what is expected to be an explosive wildfire season as California pushes through its fourth year of severe drought. The state has had over 1,000 wildfires since the beginning of the year. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Wildfires raging in four West Coast states have forced more than 1,000 people to be evacuated from their homes this week in rapidly growing blazes that mark an early start to what experts say may be a particularly destructive fire season.

The fires, spread by wind and exacerbated by very dry conditions, have already consumed more than 100 structures in Alaska, and were threatening others in drought-hit California and Arizona.

In a national forest outside Los Angeles, some 500 firefighters backed by air tankers and bulldozers were battling the Lake Fire, which was raging across some 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares) and was just 5 percent contained, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said.

More than 150 people were forced to evacuate various camps, as officials closed hiking trails and roads, and structures were threatened, the county said.

In Alaska, crews of up to nearly 500 firefighters have been battling two massive fires all week that have destroyed more than 100 structures, forced nearly 1,000 people from their homes and restricted traffic on a major highway.

The first fire, which began on Sunday, burned more than 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares) and the second blaze, which erupted on Monday, had more than doubled to 9,000 acres (3,600 hectares) by Thursday afternoon.

As those blazes raged on, firefighters in Arizona reported that they were battling a now 1,100-acres (445-hectare) brush fire burning near the small town of Kearny, southeast of Phoenix, that had forced about 300 area residents from their homes.

By mid-morning, most of the evacuees had been allowed to return home as more than 250 firefighters worked to keep the blaze away from any additional structures.

The blaze, which broke out on Wednesday and was so far about 15 percent contained, has burned at least three residences and two other structures, plus a vehicle, fire officials said.

Massive Wildfires Fueled by Dry Weather in Alaska

In eastern Washington state, firefighters were bracing for high winds from Thursday afternoon into Friday as they worked to contain the remaining half of a roughly 150-acre (61-hectare) blaze southwest of Spokane, fire department spokesman Brian Schaeffer said.

In Oregon, where officials say the fire season has started at least a month early, the state's department of forestry is increasing fire prevention restrictions, including prohibiting smoking in vehicles, starting campfires, and setting off fireworks.

(Reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau, David Schwartz in Phoenix, and Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)

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