Wildfires force evacuations from Calif. to Colo.
A house is surrounded by burned grass as a result of the High Park wildfire near Bellvue, Colo., June 18, 2012. / AP
(CBS/AP) LOVELAND, Colo. - Wildfires across the West drove hundreds of people from their homes from California to Colorado, where nuns living in a monastery and Boy Scouts at camp are among those who've fled.
Firefighters are making progress on a 92 square-mile blaze in northern Colorado despite hot, dry weather although more residents were notified to be ready to leave Tuesday. The fire west of Fort Collins is 50 percent contained after firefighters labored in temperatures in the 90s to extend lines around the blaze Monday. Expected strong winds didn't materialize but gusts of around 30 mph were forecast Tuesday along with more hot weather.
Eight more homes were found burned Monday, bringing the damage so far to at least 189 the most in the state's history. Houses in the area already burned by the fire are still at risk because of pockets of unburned fuel.
Other wildfires were burning in warm, arid weather from Wyoming to Arizona to Southern California, where a blaze that prompted the evacuation of 150 homes was 75 percent contained Tuesday.
Firefighters were able to make progress on the 900-acre fire in eastern San Diego County after getting a break from overnight winds.
In Colorado, another fire that started Sunday in the foothills west of Colorado Springs prompted evacuations of residents, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area. A monastery of nuns also evacuated as a precaution.
That fire has burned nearly 2 square miles, and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in an area where logs are drier than pine boards from a lumber yard.
Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said on Tuesday morning that it's the nature of firefighters like him to want to quickly extinguish wildland fires so they can move on to the next one, but the High Park Fire -- Colorado's third largest wildfire and its most destructive in terms of property damage -- continues to be dynamic; it is making a more patient approach necessary, CBS Denver reports.
Hahnenberg warned that without significant rainfall the firefight will likely continue for weeks and maybe months.
There are about 1,800 personnel working on the fire right now, and that includes hundreds working in "spike camps" -- small camps scattered around the perimeter of the fire.
"I believe we've got some of the best minds in the wildland fire business currently working on this," Hahnenberg said.
As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land since it began June 9, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.
Deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, Sunday on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter.
Jeff Corum, whose home burned on the first day of the northern Colorado fire, described whirling, unpredictable winds that drove the blaze.
"That's what it's been doing, back and forth," Corum said. "It's just like a washing machine, and it's just rolling up there, and that's the way the mountains are."
Corum grabbed some clothing and two weapons when he fled, but not his credit cards. He's spent a few nights in a motel, some at a Red Cross evacuation center and some in his truck.
On Monday, Rocky Mountain National Park enacted a ban on all campfires because of the threat of wildfires in Colorado. The park normally allows campfires in designated fire rings, but the ban will prohibit those, as well as charcoal grilling, for the first time since September 2010.
Authorities also are trying to enforce a ban on using private fireworks in Colorado.
Across the West:
In California, nearly 500 personnel have been dispatched to fight the fire east of Campo, in San Diego County. Water-dropping helicopters doused the area Monday, and firefighters braced for temperatures to rise and winds to pick up speed. Still, fire officials expected the blaze to be fully contained Tuesday night.
In Idaho, a fast-moving wildfire near Mountain Home burned down five homes and destroyed several outbuildings Monday evening. The blaze quickly moved through the area as Southwest Idaho remained under a red flag warning Sunday and Monday because of high temperatures, low humidity and high winds conditions conducive to explosive and destructive fires.
In Wyoming, a grass fire destroyed four homes in a small community outside Casper on Sunday, but no one was injured. Another wildfire discovered Sunday in the Medicine Bow National Forest grew to more than 3 square miles Monday amid wind gusts up to 40 mph. Some residents have been advised to evacuate.
In Nevada, a 10,000-acre wildfire north of Ely was 15 percent contained. Aerial mapping showed the fire was smaller than thought.
In New Mexico, firefighters were taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Another fire broke out Monday and burned four structures along a 5-mile stretch of the San Juan River in far northwestern New Mexico. Another fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.
In Arizona, firefighters were focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes.
In Utah, a 208-acre blaze on the west side of Lake Mountain was fully contained Monday morning, officials said. The fire started Saturday and was human-caused. No structures are threatened.
In northwest Nebraska, firefighters were attacking a wildfire reported Sunday that has blackened roughly 1,500 to 2,000 acres. No injuries have been reported, and there have been no reports of buildings being burned, authorities said Monday.
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