SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Firefighters battled heat, wind and, in one case, potential exposure to asbestos, as they battled wildfires across the western United States on Friday.
In Montana, specially trained firefighters wore respirators as they tackled a blaze near where asbestos-tainted vermiculite was mined for decades. The forest fire was first discovered Thursday afternoon near the now-closed W.R. Grace Mine. It had burned about 50 acres (20 hectares) by Friday morning.
Asbestos still lingers in the trees and soil around the mine. Breathing the fibers can lead to mesothelioma or lung cancer. The Forest Service requires firefighters to use respirators if they are going to work near the mine site.
A fast-growing wildfire in the parched sage lands of central Washington state grew to more than 109 square miles (282 square kilometers) on Friday, and closed a portion of eastbound Interstate 90, the state’s main east-west highway, for half the day.
There were no reports of injuries or any structures lost in the sparsely populated area.
“This is the busiest (wildfire) season we’ve ever seen in Washington,'” state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz tweeted, with more than 400 fires reported this year.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help with costs for a wildfire burning in Grant County, Washington.
That fire started Thursday and has burned some 1.6 square miles (4.1 square kilometers) of state and private land, and was 10 percent contained. At one time it threatened more than 1,000 homes and other infrastructure around the town of Desert Aire, triggering the federal aid.
There were six other large fires burning uncontrolled within Washington, and multiple others across the border in Oregon.
Authorities in Oregon said Friday that a 60-year-old homeless man found dead inside the perimeter of a wildfire in the southwest corner of the state had died in the blaze. Robert Lee Walker’s body was found Thursday but his cause of death had been unclear.
Also in Oregon, crews on Friday battled a major wildfire in north-central Oregon that had grown to 109 square miles (282 square kilometers). The Substation Fire, near The Dalles, Oregon, was about 15 percent contained on Friday, fought by about 300 firefighters. It was blamed for the death of a farmer.
In California, a fire just west of Yosemite National Park expanded to nearly 36 square miles (93 square kilometers) on Friday. More than 2,700 firefighters aided by a fleet of helicopters were battling the Ferguson Fire but only 7 percent of its perimeter was contained.
Ground crews dealt with high heat and rugged terrain with little to no access by roads, officials said. Thunderstorms with gusty winds were also a concern.
Several areas were under mandatory evacuation orders, but no homes had been damaged or destroyed.
Yosemite remained open but one of its scenic routes, Glacier Point Road, was closed indefinitely Thursday night to stage firefighters. Glacier Point overlook offers one of the park’s grand views, including Yosemite Valley and such landmarks as Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Wildfires burned or smoldered elsewhere in the state.
The National Weather Service warned that an extended period of high heat was brewing for a large swath of the state.