IMAGE: FIRE HOT SPOT
R.j. Sangosti  /  AP
Fire crews extinguish hot spots in a major Colorado wildfire Tuesday.
updated 7/13/2005 11:02:21 PM ET 2005-07-14T03:02:21

Improving weather helped crews make progress against a wildfire that had forced nearly 5,000 people to flee their homes, officials said Wednesday.

The blaze in the Wet Mountains had grown to 12,200 acres, but firefighters had extended their containment lines around 40 percent of the fire.

The entire town of Beulah and two subdivisions outside town were reopened to residents. Pueblo County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Bryant said he did not know how many people had left. About 1,200 people live within the town.

Bryant said everyone in Pueblo County was allowed to return, while Custer County dispatchers reported all evacuation orders were lifted. About 100 residents in a Greenwood subdivision were allowed to return earlier this week.

“Monday we got a toehold and yesterday we put a foot in,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dave Steinke said.

Meanwhile in Southern California, a wildfire whipped by coastal winds threatened 300 homes Wednesday as it charred rugged brush land on a hill below expensive hilltop estates about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The blaze in Rancho Palos Verdes grew to 100 acres within about an hour after being reported.

In Colorado, Steinke said fire managers could contain the fire soon, with crews massing on the southern and southeastern edges of the blaze.

“That’s the area we really need to get buttoned up today,” Steinke said.

No injuries were reported and no homes burned, but more than 1,000 houses, outbuildings and other structures were listed as threatened by the fire, which was started by lightning July 6.

Arizona blaze
Elsewhere, a 9,260-acre blaze jumped containment lines in southern Arizona, and about 30 summer homes and lodges were evacuated in a valley that is a world-renowned bird-watching area.

The evacuations, east of the city of Green Valley near Tucson, were conducted primarily as a precaution, firefighting officials said. Crews wanted people out of Madera Canyon so they can build fire lines and because there is only one road out of the canyon, said Bill Watt, a spokesman for the firefighting team.

More than 730 firefighters were battling the blaze that had been started by lightning last Thursday. The canyon draws visitors to see several species of hummingbirds and rare birds.

In other areas:

  • A wildfire burned 8,000 acres on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington by Wednesday afternoon as firefighters worked to control its spread through timber and sagebrush. One family was evacuated.
  • A wildfire in Montana had scorched 1,200 acres of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The fire was 60 percent contained by Wednesday.

The refuge, named after the famed Western artist, sits on 1.1 million acres in north-central Montana that feature the prairies, forested coulees, river bottoms and badlands often portrayed by Russell in his paintings.

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