Western wildfires still rage, but some progress being made

AP News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2016 12:13 AM
Western wildfires still rage, but some progress being made

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters battling fires raging through Western states are contending with weather and human interference, but some progress is being made. The following is a look at noteworthy fires Thursday:

CALIFORNIA

A wildfire broke out Thursday and exploded in size, consuming at least 50 to 60 homes as it tore through several rural communities in central California northeast of Bakersfield, authorities said.

The blaze broke out near Lake Isabella in late afternoon amid heat in the 90s and single-digit humidity, climbing over at least three ridges into hillside neighborhoods, Kern County fire Capt. Tyler Townsend said.

The fire has burned nearly four square miles, and about 1,000 homes are under threat.

Some houses were already little more than embers on the ground, while others were deep in flames.

Smoky haze could be seen for miles around, and orange flames lit the evening air as planes and helicopters made drops on the blaze.

"I've never been in a wildland fire where I've seen so many homes burn," said Townsend, who has been in the area for nearly a decade. "It's one of the most devastating I've ever seen."

Elsewhere in the state, cooler weather helped crews fighting two fires that burned more than 8 square miles of chaparral and brush in the Angeles National Forest and foothill communities northeast of Los Angeles. The fires were 15 percent contained.

More than 1,300 homes were evacuated during the 4-day-old blaze, but around half of the residents have been allowed back.

No homes have burned.

Near the San Diego County border with Mexico, an 11-square-mile fire was 35 percent contained after burning five homes. A majority of evacuees were cleared to return at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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UTAH

Crews battling a lightning-caused fire in southern Utah have faced record heat, nearly inaccessible terrain and, now, drone intruders.

Drones sightings forced crews to ground firefighting aircraft on three separate days. One drone came within feet of a helicopter, fire officials said.

The fire has burned about 1 square mile near Pine Valley, north of St. George, and prompted the evacuation of 185 homes. People were allowed back to their homes Thursday.

Washington County's sheriff is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the drone operator.

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COLORADO

A forest fire near the Wyoming line threatened about 40 cabins after exploding in size to more than 8 square miles, federal fire officials said.

Shifting winds sent the fire surging Wednesday from a single square mile. Trees killed by a beetle infestation fueled the flames in and around Routt National Forest, 140 miles north of Denver and 2 miles from Wyoming.

The deadwood made it too dangerous to send in crews to battle the flames so they were attacking the fire's perimeter, fire information officer Brian Scott said.

The weather was cooler, but firefighters were keeping an eye on the sky. There was a chance of thunderstorms that could bring dangerously erratic wind and little rain.

"Then it's anybody's guess where those flames will go," Scott said.

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ARIZONA

In eastern Arizona, firefighters managed to corral nearly half of a fire that roared through about 67 square miles of pine, juniper and brush on an Apache Indian reservation.

Crews managed to light backfires that drew a "black line" around the south end of the blaze, fire information spokeswoman Rita Baysinger said.

"They're really working their hearts out, and I think we've turned a corner," she said.

Still, more than 15,000 people in Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low and nearby mountain communities were being told to be ready to evacuate if necessary.

Temperatures that hit 100 degrees earlier in the week were down to the mid-90s. There was a slight chance of a thunderstorm, but it wasn't expected to bring much rain, she said.

Another fire 10 miles southeast of Valle in Kaibab National Forest had slowed after burning through more than 9 square miles of brush and timber. The fire, which started nearly a month ago, was 50 percent contained.

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NEW MEXICO

Damage assessments of a wildfire that's charred 28 square miles in central New Mexico are expected to start in the coming days.

One of the focuses will be an area near the community of Chilili, where 24 homes and numerous other structures were destroyed.

Cloud cover, high humidity and some rain have lessened fire activity in recent days. The blaze was nearly 70 percent contained.

Meanwhile, crews were responding to a small mountain wildfire within the municipal watershed for Santa Fe.

A helicopter and ground crews were dispatched to the fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the boundary of the Pecos Wilderness. The blaze covered less than 1/10 of a square mile.

The Santa Fe watershed feeds into reservoirs that supply water to irrigation ditches and a municipal water treatment plant.