Image: Boise fire
Marina Svahn / AP
Homes burn as a wildfire sweeps through a Boise, Idaho, neighborhood on Monday. A wildfire that started in a field of sagebrush and cheatgrass spread quickly up a ridge and burned as many as 10 homes Monday night.
updated 8/26/2008 8:22:14 PM ET 2008-08-27T00:22:14

In air still thick with the smell of smoke, authorities and residents of a Boise subdivision assessed the damage Tuesday after a wind-whipped wildfire burned several homes. Officials tried to determine whether the blaze killed a Boise State University professor whose body was found in a damaged house.

Firefighters discovered the body of Mary Ellen Ryder in one of the nearly 20 homes destroyed or damaged in the blaze. The professor of English and linguistics had been scheduled to teach her first class of the semester Tuesday.

Forensic tests on the remains have not been completed, and the cause of death has not been determined, Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg said.

No other residents were injured when the fire spread quickly from a vacant field of sagebrush up a ridge to the line of homes Monday night, but 17 police officers and at least one firefighter were treated at hospitals for smoke inhalation and other injuries.

Mark Senteno, Boise assistant fire marshal, toured the charred neighborhood Tuesday morning, counting driveways where homes had been reduced to blackened rubble. He said 10 homes were destroyed.

The fire was brought under control early Tuesday, and residents from the more than 50 homes evacuated Monday night were allowed to return, said police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower. Many evacuees spent the night at a nearby church or elementary school.

'Everything's just gone'
Christopher Lee, 40, and his wife, Mindy, 35, returned home Tuesday morning to find it burned to the ground. A firefighter had recovered the melted remnants of a college diploma and a scorched camping stove.

"Everything's just gone," said their 14-year-old son, Spencer.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It was reported about 7 p.m. Monday in the vacant field and spread rapidly as winds gusted to 50 mph.

"This has been the most devastating fire we've seen in recent memory," Fire Chief Dennis Doan said.

Meanwhile, a wildfire burning between Cody, Wyo., and Yellowstone National Park has forced the evacuation of a guest ranch.

Debbie Millard, one of the owners of the Elephant Head Lodge, said all 15 guests had left the lodge.

Fire sparked by lightning
The fire, about 15 miles east of Yellowstone, was sparked by lightning July 26 and has burned nearly 87 square miles, fire information officer Sarah Gallup said Tuesday. It is now about a half-mile from the lodge.

Gallup said 250 firefighters are working to protect buildings and other structures in the area. In its first two weeks, the fire burned some unused, unoccupied Forest Service cabins.

In Southern California, a brush fire burned at least 75 acres of state park land near a subdivision, threatening several homes in the hills of Agoura and forcing officials to close lanes on a highway due to heavy smoke Tuesday.

The fire, which burned within 50 feet of about five homes, was 80 percent contained Tuesday afternoon with the help of about 250 firefighters and six water-dropping helicopters, Los Angeles Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

Highway entrance ramps to the 101 Freeway were still closed Tuesday afternoon, said CHP Officer Heather Hoglund.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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