Firefighter killed battling blaze in Pacific Northwest

PORTLAND, Ore Thu Aug 1, 2013 7:28pm EDT

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PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - One firefighter was killed and another injured on Thursday while battling a wildfire in central Oregon, one of several blazes that have blackened hundreds of square miles of terrain across the Pacific Northwest.

A tree fell on the firefighters at about 9 a.m. local time as they worked to contain a lightning-sparked fire in the Deschutes National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Both men, who have not been identified, were contract tree fellers. Crews responded to the accident and the survivor was transported to a local area hospital for treatment for unspecified injuries, the service said in a statement.

The current fire season has been particularly deadly in the U.S. West. Nineteen Arizona firefighters died in June after they became trapped by a wind-whipped inferno, and two people perished after being caught in a blaze in neighboring Colorado.

Several large forest fires already raging in Oregon and neighboring Washington grew overnight to around 220 square miles from 190 square miles on Wednesday, and more resources were committed to the blazes.

A pall of smoke from a cluster of menacing wildfires in Southwestern Oregon, shut down outdoor performances at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, while a 35-mile stretch of the Rogue River was closed to river rafters.

Flames from the Big Windy Fire, a conflagration made up of three lighting-sparked fires last Friday, reached the banks of the Rogue River, fire spokesman Jim Whittington, said. He warned conditions for rafters were unsafe as crews hoped to use helicopters to dip into the river for water.

"Also if there is an accident or medical emergency, with roads closed, we can't get in there to rescue people in the normal ways," he said.

More than 100 homes are under evacuation orders from the Douglas Complex Fire in the southwest part of the state, which has torched 44.5 square miles and was only 7 percent contained. Some 545 structures are threatened.

In neighboring Washington state, some 1,700 firefighters worked to contain two fires that have together charred 132 square miles east of the Cascade Range, destroying at least three homes and several out-buildings, said state Emergency Management Division spokesman Mark Clemens.

The so-called Colockum Tarps fire, which broke out on Saturday morning and spread quickly through dry brush near Malaga, had burned over some 93 square miles of tree-covered mountain slopes toward the Columbia River by Wednesday afternoon, Clemens said.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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