Wildfires plague several U.S. states

June 9, 2012 at 11:20 PM
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GREENWICH, Utah, June 9 (UPI) -- Wildfires swept across parts of several U.S. states Saturday, prompting evacuations in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, officials said.

A fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., grew from just a couple of hundred acres to 2,000-3,000 acres during the day, sending up plumes of smoke visible from Denver and leading authorities to order about 40 homes evacuation in several communities, MSNBC reported. The cause of the blaze wasn't known.

Brisk winds were spreading the lightning-ignited Little Bear fire north of Ruidoso, N.M., that had grown to 10,000 acres since it started Friday, the network said. Fire officials said up to 20 structures had been damaged or destroyed, and campgrounds and communities were evacuated.

"It's nowhere near controlled. We're doing a lot of evacuations," Lincoln County Undersheriff Robert Shepperd told the Alamogordo Daily News.

Ruidoso Mayor Ray Alborn called the situation "nerve-racking."

"Today all we see is smoke," he said. "Last night, we saw the flames too and it was an awesome expression of power. It was red, red and we could see it going across the top."

New Mexico is still dealing with the 275,000-acre fire in the Gila National Forest, as well.

Two wildfires in south-central Utah led to evacuations as firefighters faced windy, dry conditions Saturday, officials said.

The Box Creek fire near Greenwich forced the evacuation of about 25 homes, while the Lost Lake fire near Teasdale prompted the evacuation of about six homes, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The Box Creek fire, started by the U.S. Forest Service in mid-May in an effort to protect homes, has expanded to at least 2,300 acres and cost at least $700,000 to fight, Interagency Fire said.

The Lost Lake fire, which began Sunday and was 30 percent contained, had spread to 2,056 acres but expanded little Friday and early Saturday, Interagency Fire spokesman Jason Curry said. Investigators believe humans caused the blaze but have not caught anyone.

The region's largest blaze, the White Rock fire on the Nevada-Utah border, had grown to 6,251 acres and was 90 percent contained.

Fire Incident Commander John Kidd said full containment was expected Saturday. The White Rock fire was started by lightning June 1.

The fire season also is under way in Alaska, where six new fires Friday brought the total number of active wildfires in the state to 30. All were attributed to lightning strikes with the Otter Creek fire near Kiana the largest.

California fire officials say there have been more than 1,500 wildfires this year -- twice the number last year and above the five-year average of 1,300, the San Jose Mercury News reported Saturday.

"This season, in particular, appears it might be a tough season for wildfires," Kathleen Stalter, risks services manager for the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., said. "We're facing four or five months of little rain. That doesn't bode well for wildfires."

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