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Weather Hampers Wildfire Efforts

Firefighters struggled to keep a 37,000-acre desert wildfire from spreading to the mountain resort community of Big Bear Lake, fighting against winds and blistering heat that kept fanning the flames.

It was worst combination for firefighters, reports : dry brush, hills that haven't burned for years, temperatures over 100, and low humidity.

The fire was moving southwest, pushed by 10 mph winds and gusts between 25 and 40 mph. About 1,000 evacuees from Pioneertown, Burns Canyon, Rimrock, Gamma Gulch, Flamingo Heights and Little Morongo Canyon had not returned to their homes, said Capt. Marc DeRosier of the California Department of Forestry.

The smoke and flames force nearly 1,000 residents to evacuate, reports CBS News correspondent Vince Gonzales. Firefighters worked hard but couldn't stop the blaze from destroying homes, vehicles, and buildings.

Air power was helping to slow the fire down, but the weather continues to heat up.

Fire officials worried if the blaze continued west toward the San Bernardino National Forest, it could grow rapidly and get dangerously close to Big Bear Lake, a community of summer lake resorts, winter skiing and about 5,500 residents. A severe bark beetle infestation has killed many trees in recent years, and would fuel the fire.

"If it starts in there it will be almost impossible to stop," said CDF spokeswoman Karen Guillemin.

The fire, ignited during the weekend by lightning, has destroyed at least 42 houses, 55 other buildings and 91 vehicles around this high desert community 100 miles east of Los Angeles, authorities said.

"Here's the front door over here. This was the living room," one homeowner told Futterman.

Historic buildings that made nearby Pioneertown famous, old western-style saloons and storefronts that once were props for movie cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, were spared.

Temperatures hit 108 degrees Wednesday as 2,500 firefighters attacked flames devouring Joshua trees, pinon pines and brush in hills and canyons. Highs in the 100s are forecast for the Pioneertown area through the weekend, with winds 5 to 15 mph. Higher up at Big Bear Lake, temperatures in the mid-80s were forecast for Thursday.

A blanket of smoke darkened the sky over the Mojave Desert north of Yucca Valley.

In the Gamma Gulch area, dead animals littered a property where a home and barn burned. Eight firefighters and two civilians were treated for minor burns or smoke inhalation.

Residents watched nervously in Morongo Valley, where large ranch homes are surrounded by highly combustible greasewood and Joshua trees, pinon pines and brush.

Elsewhere in the West, several new wildfires in southern Montana spread quickly — one to an estimated 10,000 acres — because of windy weather.

At least one house on the Crow Indian Reservation was reported destroyed by a blaze estimated at 4,500 acres, said Jon Kohn, an information officer for the Crow Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs' Forestry division.

There also was a 3,150-acre wildfire west of Columbus, and another burning north of Pompeys Pillar that was estimated at 10,000 acres, said Mary Apple, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management.

Wildfires have burned more than 4 million acres nationwide, almost twice the 10-year average for this time of year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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