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Firefighters Contain Calif. Wildfire

Firefighters were finally able to contain a nearly 100- square mile blaze on Tuesday night after days of struggling in Southern California, but with rain forecast, there was a new fear of mudslides.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the rest of the week in the Mojave Desert and portions of the San Bernardino National Forest, where nearly two weeks of fire have left behind nonporous ash that could turn into mudslides with enough rain.

Forecasters said there was a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Wednesday.

Cooler weather helped firefighters contain the blaze during the night. It, along with a second fire, has charred a combined 131 square miles.

Skies were partly cloudy Tuesday and temperatures were considerably cooler than the highs of last week.

Ignited by lightning July 9, the first blaze destroyed 58 houses and mobile homes, dozens of outbuildings and scores of vehicles. It was linked to 17 injuries and one death.

The second fire, covering about 24,210 acres, merged with the other last week. It was burning in low-elevation brush and on rocky ridges dotted with pines killed by drought and a bark beetle infestation. It was 57 percent contained Tuesday.

On the northwestern edge of the fire front, an 800-acre blaze remained within a few miles of mountain hamlets but "we don't feel there's any real threat," Rich Phelps of the U.S. Forest Service said. "We're not letting the fire grow. We're containing it."

Elsewhere, a wildfire near the Nevada-California line was sparked by lightning Monday and had spread to 6,000 acres by midday Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of campers and a ranch and choking valleys along the eastern Sierra corridor with smoke.

Though the area is sparsely populated, fire officials worried that the blaze could threaten outlying ranches and homes. The blaze was moving in a northeasterly direction toward the scenic ranching community of Wellington, Nev., about 75 miles southeast of Reno.

"You feel so helpless," said Dena Lang, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. "Firefighters are out there working hard; landowners are working so hard." Some ranchers are losing grazing areas because of fires, she said.

At least eight major fires have burned in southern and eastern Montana. Together, they had burned an estimated 345,000 acres as of Tuesday. Fire officers cautioned that acreage on some of the more active fires could change with better mapping.

In Colorado, lightning sparked a 20 acre blaze in Mesa Verde National Park, officials said. No archaeological sites were damaged or threatened, and most visitor services remained open at the park Tuesday, officials said.

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