Wildfires flare across West

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HOT SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) – One of dozens of fires across the West raced out of a canyon in South Dakota’s Black Hills “with a vengeance” on Sunday, killing a homeowner and destroying 27 homes, authorities said.

Residents of about 50 homes had fled the wildfire near Hot Springs, which also injured two firefighters and closed a section of a state highway, state and federal officials said. An area of roughly 9 square miles has burned since the fire was sparked Saturday by lightning.

One person was killed trying to retrieve possessions from a home. The person’s identity was withheld until relatives could be notified, authorities said.

“This thing blew up because of extreme hot temperatures and the winds,” said Joe Lowe, state wildland fire coordinator. “It came out of the canyon with a vengeance.”

Gov. Mike Rounds toured the area Sunday and noted that the trees around some houses were charred but the dwellings were intact.

“I don’t know how in the world you saved some of those homes,” he told firefighters at an evening briefing.

More than two dozen homes had no damage because of a high-tech gel made of water-filled bubbles.

High wind near Wenatchee, Wash., overnight spread a brush fire that threatened homes. By Sunday morning, 250 to 270 homes had been evacuated, and at least three outbuildings were destroyed.

In fire-swept Nevada, about 1,500 evacuees from Winnemucca were allowed home hours after a wildfire destroyed an electrical substation and several outbuildings, shut down Interstate 80, delayed trains, and killed livestock. No injuries were reported.

“It was pretty hairy for quite a while, and people thought they would go back to nothing,” Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtiss Kull said Sunday. “It was a huge wall of flame coming at the homes. It’s amazing that no homes were lost.”

It was unknown how much of the fire was contained Sunday, and no estimate was provided on when full containment would be reached, said Jamie Thompson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

A fire in Arizona burned at the base of a mountain that is home to several expensive telescopes. A spokesman at Kitt Peak told KSAZ-TV that he was concerned but not alarmed. Tankers were dropping retardant between the fire and the observatory, the station reported.

In Utah, the largest wildfire in state history grew to 283,000 acres on Sunday. The blaze has swept through about 442 square miles of extremely dry sagebrush, cheat grass and pinion juniper in central Utah.

“This fire just ran away from us, and we couldn’t put a dent in it,” said Mike Melton, fire management officer for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The fire forced the closure Sunday of a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 15 between Interstate 70 near Cove Fort and Beaver, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said. It was unclear when the freeway would reopen.

Other fires blackened the landscape in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

Quick-moving flames burned through more than 53 square miles in California’s Inyo National Forest, skirting the popular John Muir Wilderness north of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. At least one home was destroyed.

The blaze was less than 10 percent contained Sunday, though a break in the 60-mph wind and triple-digit temperature gave firefighters a chance to dig in, Inyo National Forest spokesman John Louth said.

“When an ember lands in the sagebrush, there’s a 100 percent chance of it catching,” said fire information officer Jim Wilkins. “You put a spark on it, it will ignite into fire.”

Flames up to 40 feet high threatened major power lines in the area feeding the eastern Sierra front and greater Los Angeles, Wilkins said.

A 45,000-acre fire in Idaho was contained Saturday, officials said. Crews on Sunday raced to repair fire-damaged transmission lines that threatened rotating power failures.



Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City, Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev., Rachel Konrad in San Francisco and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho.

AP-ES-07-08-07 2220EDT

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