Nearly 4,000 firefighters worked in blistering temperatures Saturday to corral a huge complex of fires in rugged wilderness as authorities found a body in a blackened part of the desert.
The body of Gerald Guthrie, 57, was found by a search-and-rescue crew, said Cindy Beavers of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Guthrie had been missing since Tuesday, when fire swept through Pioneertown, a former Western movie locale.
His body was found in a charred area at the base of a small hill less than a half-mile from his two-story domed home, which escaped the flames.
A family member last heard from Guthrie when he called from his 10-acre property and said the fire was close and he was preparing to evacuate, authorities said.
The cause of his death remained under investigation but sheriff’s Detective James Porter said it appeared to have been fire-related.
There were no other reports of missing persons affected by the fire, authorities said.
Progress on fire lines
Fire officials reported some progress on the fires, which covered more than 110 square miles in Southern California about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
A 59,000-acre fire was 40 percent contained, its eastern flank no longer a problem but its western side still a major concern. An evacuation remained in effect in one area, but were lifted in several others. Ignited by lightning a week ago it roared to life a few days later, destroying 56 desert homes.
An adjacent complex of fires that merged with the larger fire Friday grew to more than 12,000 acres but was still 5 percent contained. Crews protected a handful of homes in a canyon, but there were no evacuations.
The fires were burning below the flanks of the San Bernardino Mountains, but as of Saturday were not considered immediate threats to resort communities in the Big Bear Lake region atop the range.
“There is no evacuation or potential evacuations at this time for Big Bear,” said Wayne Barringer, a fire information officer for the California Department of Forestry.
Rugged, remain terrain
Firefighters were being airlifted to the inaccessible western flank of the larger fire or were being driven in and hiking the rest of the way. Some crews were having to camp in remote locations.
Cate Baker-Hall, 55, an artist, said her three-story home burned to the ground. She lost a collection of more than 100 paintings, lithographs and other art, and a manuscript of a book she had just completed on the 1960s British band, The Zombies, she said.
The house “is just gone,” she said. “I’m trying to take the Buddha approach and deal with today. There’s only so many tears you can cry.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited a command post at Yucca Valley High School with wife Maria Shriver, said their helicopter tour had flown close enough to see firefighters working on the ground.
“It is a huge fire. It is really extraordinary how quickly it has spread out,” he said. “And that’s why I say it is very dangerous and they have to contain it as quickly as possible.”
Resort area safe — for now
Fire commander Rick Henson told the governor the threat to structures in Yucca Valley communities was over, but he noted that when the fires merged they began moving a bit north and west, toward the mountains.
“It’s really not moving toward Big Bear right now but it is a threat,” he said.
Elsewhere in Southern California, a 500-acre blaze in Redlands was 20 percent contained after destroying one building. It broke out Friday night and threatened 100 homes but there were no evacuations.
In San Diego County, a 120-acre fire in Cleveland National Forest was fully contained and hand crews were finishing off the remains of a 20-acre blaze that spread over both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border in Tecate, said state fire spokeswoman Audrey Hagen.
Meanwhile, in southern Montana, firefighters mostly east of Billings were battling four large fires that charred about 150,000 acres. The fires threatened about 125 homes, officials said.
In Wyoming, a wind shift helped firefighters keep a wildfire from advancing toward Devils Tower National Monument. Four fires about 5 miles southwest of Devils Tower have burned about 13,700 acres — about 21 square miles — of mostly shrubs and ponderosa pine. About 10 percent of the fires were contained.
In northern Minnesota, an 800-acre fire in a wilderness area near was worrying authorities, who feared it could be fueled by millions of trees that blew down in a 1999 storm. Temperatures were near 100 in nearby Duluth.