Western wildfires still rage but some progress being made

By: | Published: June 24, 2016 8:41 AM

Firefighters battling fires raging through Western states are contending with weather and human interference, but some progress is being made.

Firefighter battlingWestern wildfires still rage but some progress being made. (Reuters)

Firefighters battling fires raging through Western states are contending with weather and human interference, but some progress is being made. Here is a look at some noteworthy fires Thursday:

CALIFORNIA

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 have been allowed back.

On Thursday, authorities let hundreds of evacuated residents return briefly to homes in Azusa and Duarte to gather belongings. Residents might not be allowed back permanently for several more days, officials said.

One of fires broke out Monday when a car ran off a highway.

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.

A heat wave coupled with nightly wind gusts drove the fires earlier in the week before slightly cooler weather took hold. But National Weather Service forecasts warned red-flag conditions of extreme fire danger could return by evening.

Also Read: Wildfire in eastern Arizona: New fires erupt in California as heatwave sears Southwest

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.

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.

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.

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.

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