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Deadly Wildfires Blacken Western States

As wildfires raged across the Western states, a blaze in South Dakota's Black Hills destroyed 27 homes and killed a resident who was trying to save his belongings.

The fire started in Alabaugh Canyon following a lightning storm on Saturday. By Monday it covered an estimated 11 square miles, southwest of Hot Springs, S.D. Two firefighters were injured and many others were pulled back because of safety concerns.

Rain on Sunday night and cooler temperatures slowed the fire. Firefighters said it was 20 percent contained Monday, and crews expect to have it fully contained by Thursday.


While the change in weather gave firefighters a chance to shore up their fire lines, firefighters worried the weather could change for the worse.

"The fire is not over yet," said Joe Lowe, the state's wild land fire coordinator. "This fire could come back to life again.

Kelly Stover, in at the Great Plains Dispatch Center, said the fire is relatively small compared to others fires in the West, but it could take weeks, or even months, before is has burned out because of drought conditions.

Other fires swept across California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Many of them were started by lightning and fueled by the dry conditions that worsened as a heat wave sizzled across the west last week.

In Utah, smoke from a major fire was blamed for two deaths in a weekend motorcycle accident. Another Utah blaze killed three people last week.


Crews in California's eastern Sierra Nevada gained ground against a fire that had charred at least 34,000 acres, or 53 square miles, in the Inyo National Forest. That fire was 15 percent contained Sunday after cooler temperatures and lighter wind allowed firefighters to make their first real progress, Inyo National Forest spokesman Nancy Upham said.

The flames skirted the popular John Muir Wilderness and destroyed at least one home outside Independence, Calif. Crews worked to protect major power transmission lines in the area feeding the eastern Sierra front and greater Los Angeles, said Jim Wilkins, fire information officer.

A wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California blackened more than 6,500 acres in rural hills Sunday in Santa Barbara County. A water-dropping helicopter crashed near the Los Padres fire and two pilots suffered minor injuries, Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Eli Iskow said.

The biggest wildfire in Utah history charged across 283,000 acres or 442 square miles of extremely dry sagebrush, cheat grass and pinion juniper in the central part of the state.

"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 was right along Interstate 15 on Sunday, closing 60 miles of the highway between Interstate 70 near Cove Fort and Beaver for nearly five hours, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Winward said.

A fire in southern Arizona had blackened about 3,500 acres in the mountains near the telescope complex at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Air tankers dropped retardant between the fire and the observatory, and fire trucks were stationed at the mountaintop facility, officials reported.

In Nevada, about 1,500 evacuees from Winnemucca were allowed home hours after a 25,000-acre wildfire destroyed an electrical substation and several outbuildings, shut down Interstate 80, delayed trains and killed livestock. The fire was 10 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported.

"It was a huge wall of flame coming at the homes. It's amazing that no homes were lost," Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtiss Kull said Sunday.

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

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.

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