Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thousands evacuate Utah wildfire

A wildfire west of Utah Lake sends flames shooting into the sky Friday, June 22, 2012. Thousands of residents in northern Utah were evacuated after high winds kicked up a fire started by target shooters. (Salt Lake Tribune,AP Photo/Paul Fraughton)
(CBS/AP) SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah - Crews continue to battle a wildfire that has burned more than 4,000 acres in Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, forcing the evacuation of about 9,000 residents and endangering the area's power grid infrastructure.
The fire started near the Saratoga Springs landfill, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. High winds then helped fan the flames onto tinder-dry grasslands.
The fire, which was sparked by target shooters on Thursday afternoon, continues to threaten new homes as high winds push it across the hill.
The Dump Fire was 30 percent contained early Saturday, reports CBS Affiliate KUTV. Officials say the Dump Fire has provided some of the worst conditions they've seen in years.
No homes have been damaged, but the Salt Lake Tribune reports that some homes are located less than a mile from the flames - leaving them vulnerable to the blaze. One firefighter had suffered minor burns.
The fire was upgraded to a level 2 response from the state's emergency operation, which will bring in more technical expertise and more sophisticated air operations to assist in battling the blaze.
Ash continues to fall in the area, and winds are causing water to turn into mist before it can hit the flames.
Governor Herbert said Friday that there have already been 400 wildfires in Utah - 380 of which were human-caused. Bureau of Land Management officials said this is the 20th target-shooting related fire this year in Utah.
Herbert called on shooters to self-regulate, since legislation bars sheriffs from banning firearms.
Forecasters expect strong winds to persist through the weekend.
On Friday, fire officials were calling in additional aircraft and extra ground crews.
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said he feared the fire could take down the area's power grid, shutting off electricity to up to 7,000 homes.
"Several power poles and transformers ... up and down the fire lines have burned," Tracy said Friday evening. "If the fire gets a couple more critical poles and drops that grid, wires down on the ground, it will black out this entire area."
A continued mix of hot, windy and extremely dry conditions has raised the fire danger across the West.


At a wildfire burning on more than 69,000 acres in northern Colorado, some homes were being evacuated Friday because of several spot fires started by winds outside the main fire. Some of those residents were evacuated after the fire flared up on Sunday and had only returned home Wednesday.
The mix of conditions that makes it easy for new fires to start and spread and cause existing fires to flare up is expected to last through Saturday there.
The fire west of Fort Collins has now destroyed at least 191 homes. It's also blamed for the death of a woman found dead at her ranch.
In southern Colorado, a new 300-acre fire near Mancos was threatening at least 10 structures and prompted officials to evacuate some homes east of town, federal officials said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper's office said he signed executive orders releasing $6.2 million more in state disaster money to fight the fire and two others.
The northern Colorado fire will have $5 million more available, on top of $20 million made available by a previous order. The fire has qualified for 75 percent federal reimbursement for firefighting costs, Hickenlooper's office said. A fire near Lake George will get $1 million, and the Stuart Hole fire in Larimer County will receive $200,000. The disaster money is coming partly from reserve funds.
Heat and low humidity is also a concern at the 1,150-acre wildfire burning near Lake George, which is 57 percent contained.
A fire burning for over a month near Pagosa Springs has grown by about 1,300 acres. Two ranches have been evacuated.


A wildfire that has charred nearly 12,000 acres of rugged terrain in northeast Nevada near the Utah line is 60 percent contained. It was started by a planned burn that escaped June 9.


Crews were preparing safety zones where firefighters can flee in case a wildfire that has scorched more than 4.5 square miles in Medicine Bow National Forest makes a run. It's 10 percent contained.

New Mexico

A fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses, the largest in state history, has blackened 463 square miles in the Gila Wilderness and is 80 percent contained.
Meanwhile, a 360-acre fire along the Rio Grande on the northern edge of Albuquerque was 50 percent contained. Nearby residents were on alert, but no one has been evacuated.


Officials battling a wildfire in eastern Arizona say they're prepared for high winds and low humidity. Firefighters have created containments lines around the community of Young and burned out fuel ahead of the fire. Crews are reinforcing those lines and patrolling for spot fires.
The Poco Fire is nearly 12,000 acres and 25 percent contained. More than 740 people and several helicopters are fighting the fire.


The largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 5,200 acres on the Big Island.

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