BLY, Ore. (AP
) — Wildfires
in the northwest are endangering American Indian tribal lands, which are already struggling to conserve water
and preserve traditional hunting
grounds in the face of a Western drought
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 60 large, active wildfires in a dozen mostly Western states
that have destroyed homes and burned through nearly a million acres (1,562 square miles, 4,047 square kilometers).
Hundreds of people in the Colville Indian Agency town of Nespelem were ordered to flee due to “imminent and life-threatening” danger as the largest of five wildfires caused by dozens of Monday night lightning strikes ripped through grass
, sagebrush, and timber.
According to Andrew Joseph Jr.
, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which includes more than 9,000 descendants of a dozen tribes, seven homes burned but four were vacant, and the entire town was safely evacuated before the fire arrived.
Monte Piatote and his wife
grabbed their pets
and fled, but he watched the house
he'd lived in since he was a child
“I told my wife, ‘Watch,'” Piatote said to KREM-TV.
The confederation declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, closing the reservation to the public and industrial activity, citing weather
forecasts of triple-digit temperatures and 25-mph (40-kph) winds on Wednesday and Thursday, which could fuel the fires.
The lightning-sparked Bootleg Fire
was raging through lands near the California border
on Wednesday, threatening at least 2,000 homes.
Mark Enty, a spokesman for the Northwest Incident Management Team 10, which is battling the fire, said the Bootleg Fire has doubled in size every day since he arrived in the area last week.
Enty remarked, "It's like having a new fire every day."
The fire had spread over 315 square miles (816 square kilometers), an area larger than New York City
had to back off for the third day in a row for their own safety, and the “weather isn’t going to change for the foreseeable future,” according to incident commander Rob Allen.
Above-normal temperatures and bone-dry humidity, combined with afternoon gusts, were expected to create dangerous fire conditions through Wednesday, according to officials, who said members of the Oregon National Guard
would be deployed to assist with road closures and traffic control in fire-affected areas.
The fire disrupted three transmission lines that supply electricity to California, prompting the state's power grid operator to request voluntary power conservation
on Monday. However, the California Independent System Operator reported on Tuesday that the grid was stable, and that another call for conservation was not expected due to the forecast for cooler temperatures.
The Fremont-Winema National Forest fire was raging through a region where the Klamath Tribes — a group of three distinct indigenous peoples
— have lived for millennia.
“There is definitely extensive damage to the forest where we have treaty rights,” Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council in Chiloquin, Oregon, which is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the Bootleg Fire, said.
“I am sure we have lost a number of deer
to the fire,” he said, adding, “We are definitely concerned because I know there are cultural resource areas and sensitive areas that the fire is likely to pass through.”
Wildfires have impacted the Klamath Tribes in the past, including one that burned 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) in southern Oregon last September, damaging land where many Klamath tribal members hunt, fish
, and gather, as well as the tribes' cemetery and at least one tribal member's house, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The tribes are dealing with drought-related issues. For decades, they have fought to maintain minimum water levels in Upper Klamath Lake in order to protect two species of federally endangered sucker fish that are central to their culture and heritage. Farmers draw a large portion of their irrigation water from the same lake that is critical to the fish.
The Beckwourth Complex, a combined pair of lightning-ignited blazes that blackened more than 145 square miles (375 square kilometers) near the Nevada
state line, was reported to be nearly 50% contained in California.
Damage in Doyle, California, where flames swept in over the weekend and destroyed several homes, including Beverly Houdyshell's, was still being assessed.
The 79-year-old woman stated on Tuesday that she is too old and too poor to rebuild and is unsure of her future.
“What chance do I have to build another house, to have another home?” Houdyshell asked.
“I can't just go out and buy another house like that. I had insurance
. I haven't heard from them yet; I called them, but I haven't heard anything.”
A fire that started in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park on Sunday grew to nearly 15 square miles (39 square kilometers), but containment was increased to 15%, and four unspecified buildings were destroyed.
Scientists say climate change
has made the West much warmer and drier, and they warn that weather will get wilder as the world warms. They say extreme conditions are often caused by a combination of unusually random, short-term and natural weather patterns exacerbated by long-term, human-caused climate change.
Cline reported from Salem, Oregon, as part of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News
Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists
in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Associated Press journalists Chris Grygiel in Seattle
, Paul Davenport in Phoenix
, Julie Walker in New York, and Haven Daley in Doyle, Calif. also contributed.