BOISE (AP) — Storms brought cooler and wetter weather into the Western and Northwestern U.S. this weekend, breaking up a temperature inversion that had blanketed much of the region with acrid smoke from dozens of wildfires.
Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Saturday they expected fire activity to decrease over the next several weeks. Center spokeswoman Kari Cobb says air quality should improve as the smoke-trapping inversion breaks up.
“We should see it lifting more today,'' she said Saturday. “It's predicted to be mostly gone by tomorrow in most of the West.''
She said forecasters expect storms to bring some lightning and winds to 30 mph, notably in Montana, but that rain and higher humidity should decrease the chances of new fires.
The center says there are 67 active large wildfires being fought.
A look wildfires across the region:
Firefighters in drought-stricken Montana used sprinklers and hoses on Saturday to try to protect strategic locations near some of the over two dozen wildfires burning in the state that have forced more people from their homes.
A “rain for rent'' system was being used in Glacier National Park, including around Lake McDonald Lodge, to increase humidity in the immediate area. That means firefighters were using sprinklers to recharge a swamp on the perimeter of a 176-square-mile (456-square-kilometer) fire burning near Seeley Lake. The land is too soggy to support bulldozers used to build containment lines but not wet enough to reliably stop the flames from advancing beyond it.
About a dozen people were ordered to evacuate their homes Friday night after very warm and dry conditions pushed a 37-square-mile (93-square-kilometer) fire near Lincoln toward them.
Stronger winds are expected to clear out some of the heavy smoke that has created unhealthy air in the state and grounded firefighting aircraft.
Wind gusts of 35 mph are possible, with the worst winds expected along the Continental Divide where some of the fires are burning.
Montana has spent more than $50 million on fire suppression since the beginning of July, depleting its reserves account and emergency funds at a time when tax revenues are down. It plans to cut programs and services to fill a projected $227 million budget shortfall.
At least four high school football games were cancelled Friday and another 13 postponed due to smoke from wildfires that the state Department of Health and Welfare said was so bad children and teens should be kept indoors and activities like football and soccer avoided.
Some of those games were rescheduled for Saturday, and state officials said air quality conditions had improved enough that they lifted a statewide Air Quality Forecast and Caution.
Idaho's largest wildfire continues to burn in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho . It's being allowed to burn unchecked, but buildings and bridges are being protected.
Officials say the fire on Saturday had consumed about 126 square miles (326 square kilometers).
A 165-square-mile (427-square-kilometer) wildfire burning within the Pasayten Wilderness about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Mazama is the largest wildfire in Washington state.
It also crossed the border into Canada late last month with flames fueled by heavy dead and down timber.
Officials say the fire is about 40 percent contained but rugged terrain is hampering firefighting efforts.
Near Enumclaw, Washington, firefighters are attacking a 1-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometer) wildfire that is threatening the watershed for the city of Tacoma as well as industrial timberland.
About 200 firefighters are assigned to that fire.
A wildfire burning in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is holding at about 52 square miles (135 square kilometers) but residents in communities in three counties remain under evacuation notices and those in other communities have been told to be ready to flee.
More than 900 firefighters are battling the blaze that's 7 percent contained and burning in timber.
Officials say firefighters set fires on Friday to burn fuel ahead of the blaze and have greatly reduced the danger of the fire's spread to the north. They say a similar strategy burned up fuel around a communications tower south of Cascades Locks.
Officials say the fire has burned in a mosaic pattern, and some areas within the perimeter of the fire have trees that should survive, keeping at least some of the scenic gorge green.
A wildfire burning for more than two weeks in far northwestern California continues to chew through timber even as crews increase containment.
Officials said Saturday that the blaze near Helena, a rural community that was once a 19th century mining camp, has consumed nearly 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) of forest. It's 40 percent contained. Evacuation orders remain in place for several homes.
In Central California, a fire on the western edge of the Sierra is half contained after burning nearly 40 square miles (102 square kilometers) of dry brush and trees near Springville.
Hundreds of firefighters are fighting about 20 large blazes across the state.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Madera, Mariposa and Tulare counties due to wildfires that have burned for several days.
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The case is moving forward against a former Omaha police officer charged with felony assault for using a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died.
Douglas County Judge Marcena Hendrix ruled Monday that prosecutors have enough evidence to pursue the case against Scotty Payne.
Defense attorney Steve Lefler plans to challenge the judge's decision, and he hopes Payne will eventually be cleared.
“There's no evidence here of any intent by Mr. Payne to do anything but his job,'' Lefler said.
Mandee Kampbell, who trains Omaha officers on stun gun use, testified that Payne's 12 uses of a stun gun for 68 seconds total during the June 5 confrontation violated department policies and endangered Zachery Bearheels' life.
“None of the deployments appear reasonable or justified,'' Kampbell said.
The department's rules limit stun gun use to no more than one 15-second use or three 5-second uses. Kampbell said that using a stun gun for more than that creates health risks.
Police video shows Payne using a stun gun to shock the 29-year-old Bearheels at a convenience store. Officer Ryan McClarty is seen punching Bearheels. Some of the blows came after Bearheels was on the ground and not resisting.
Prosecutors say McClarty has been ticketed for misdemeanor assault.
Police have said Bearheels fought officers, but prosecutors said he didn't commit any crime. He died later at a hospital.
“In this case, there was no arrest or attempt to arrest. Therefore, no use of force was authorized,'' Deputy Douglas County Attorney Jim Masteller said at Monday's hearing.
Bearheels' mother has told police and media in Omaha that her son was bipolar and schizophrenic. Relatives believe he had stopped taking his medication.
Omaha police Chief Todd Schmaderer has recommended firing two other officers who were involved in the confrontation with Bearheels. That recommendation is being reviewed by the city's personnel department.
Bearheels, a Native American from Oklahoma, was lost in Omaha after being kicked off an interstate bus going from South Dakota to his home state, according to his family. Police were responding to a report of a man who was causing a disturbance and refusing to leave when they encountered Bearheels.
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A criminal defense attorney said Monday that protesters were acting within their rights when arrested in Santa Fe at a rally against a re-enactment of the return of Spanish conquerors to New Mexico, challenging local law enforcement's handling of the event.
Eight people arrested by Santa Fe police last week pleaded not guilty Monday in municipal court to charges of criminal trespassing that could carry penalties of 90 day in jail or a $500 fine or both.
One organizer of the protest, Jennifer Marley of San Ildefonso Pueblo, plans to plead not guilty to additional felony charges of battery on a police officer and disorderly conduct, said defense attorney, Dan Cron, who was coordinating a voluntary “strike force'' team of attorneys to represent people arrested at Friday's protests.
“Based on the limited information that we have so far, it appears to me that Jennifer and the other protesters were acting within the protections of first amendment freedom of expression,'' said Cron, noting Monday that he had been unable to access and review police accounts of the arrests. “Until we learn more about the specifics of the allegations, it's not possible to give a definitive read on the constitutionality of what the police did, but initial indications are that the people who were arrested were not acting illegally.''
Most of the arrests on Friday took place as police cleared away protesters from Santa Fe's downtown plaza at the conclusion of the re-enactment of the 1692 arrival of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas. In 1680, scattered Indian tribes had united to drive Spanish settlers out.
Activists believe the costumed re-enactment obscures the cruelty de Vargas inflicted on Pueblo Indians as he stamped out resistance to Spanish rule. Pageantry participants and supporters say they are honoring their Spanish heritage, paying homage to the Roman Catholic faith and highlighting reconciliation with Native Americans.
Cron said a Native American man from the Pala Indian reservation in Southern California, Julian Rodriguez, appears to have been arrested on the plaza as he passed through Santa Fe with his wife, unaware of the protests until they arrived.
Cron said Rodriguez failed to remove a bandanna from his forehead as ordered. A police account of the confrontation was unavailable.
About 80 Santa Fe Police Department officers thronged the city's downtown streets on Friday, with support from state and Albuquerque police, amid the nonviolent protests. Activist emboldened by the removal of Confederate monuments across the United States warned ahead of time of plans for a loud rally.
While the arrests took place on cordoned-off public streets, police say the area was treated essentially as private property under terms of an event permit from the city, said Greg Gurule, a spokesman for the Santa Fe Police Department.
The scenario has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Staff Attorney Kristin Love said Monday the watchdog group has begun collecting information to explore whether constitutional rights were violated.
The de Vargas re-enactment started two hours early without public notice in an effort by organizers and police to avoid confrontations.
Marley was arrested later as she and chanting protesters carrying signs approached a line of police blocking a street.
A written police report asserts that she attempted to enter the permitted area against police orders that protesters stay out.