Image: Smoke from Colorado wildfire
Rick Wilking  /  Reuters
Smoke rises from the raging High Park fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday.
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updated 6/19/2012 5:40:55 PM ET 2012-06-19T21:40:55

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.

A nun who returned to feed the chickens at the remote monastery Tuesday said the fire was about two miles from the site. She said sacred items from the chapel, including a chalice, along with insurance papers and historical documents were removed Sunday as slurry bombers flew over the property.

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.

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.

In other fires:

  • In Idaho, a fast-moving wildfire near Mountain Home destroyed five homes and 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, more experienced fire managers and crews took over the fight against a wildfire burning in a rough, mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest. The fire has burned about four square miles since Sunday. About 40 residents of the area's scattered ranches and cabins 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 three structures along a 5-mile stretch of the San Juan River in far northwestern New Mexico. The fire, burning east of Bloomfield, is 30 percent contained. The 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 building containment lines around a 3,700-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest to try to protect electric transmission lines that provide power to the state's major metropolitan areas. The fire was 15 percent contained Tuesday.
  • In northwest Nebraska, a fire has charred an estimated 5,000 acres in Sioux County. Fire officials said it was 50 percent to 65 percent contained Tuesday afternoon.
  • In Hawaii, the upcountry Kula fire was declared 90 percent contained Tuesday morning. The wildfire burned six acres and damaged three homes.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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