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Firefighters gain on Western blazes

Lower temperatures and higher humidity Saturday were expected to help crews assigned to a wildfire that has scorched 12 square miles in northern Colorado.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Lower temperatures and higher humidity Saturday were helping crews assigned to a wildfire that has scorched 12 square miles in northern Colorado, one of several burning across the West.

The fire, which started Monday about 20 miles northwest of Fort Collins, had prompted officials to evacuate about 80 homes, but all residents were allowed to return by Friday night. No buildings have been damaged, and the blaze was about 45 percent contained Saturday afternoon.

Reghan Cloudman with the U.S. Forest Service said the area received about 0.15 inches of rain Saturday morning, which "is better than nothing." Scattered rain storms moved through the area in the afternoon, and temperatures were expected to remain in the 50s throughout the day — more than a 20-degree drop from highs during the previous three days.

"The rain is definitely helping firefighters out there," Cloudman said. "It's good news, but we don't want people to let their guard down."

The U.S. Attorney's Office said 56-year-old James J. Weber of Fort Collins started the fire with an outdoor stove while camping in the Roosevelt National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service investigators said Weber, a mental health counselor at Colorado State University, tried to stamp out the fire Monday but fled as the blaze spread. He later reported starting the fire to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, officials said.

There is no cell phone service in the area where the man was camping.

The Forest Service issued Weber a citation for causing a fire without a permit, and he faces a $300 fine. Authorities also plan to pursue restitution for the blaze.

Weber's attorney, Joseph A. Gavaldon, declined to comment about how the fire started or any events that followed, but he said his client is praying with "hope that this gets under control."

The Colorado blaze, which has required the resources of more than 500 firefighters, two planes and five helicopters, was one of several burning in the West.

Wildfires also have charred terrain in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

  • In Nevada, a fire grew to 27 square miles and threatened sage grouse and mule deer habitat. No homes were in danger, and no injuries were reported. The blaze was about 50 percent contained Saturday and remains under investigation.
  • In Arizona, slowing winds aided firefighters battling three major blazes. The state's largest fire, the Sunflower Fire, continued to burn about 16,600 acres just north of Mesa. Officials say nearly 600 firefighters helped keep it from spreading. A 10-mph breeze helped 900 firefighters get the Gladiator Fire below 13,000 acres and 10 percent contained. The Bull Flat Fire, which has struck more than 2,000 acres in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, was about 80 percent contained.
  • In New Mexico, crews battled a lightning-caused fire that has scorched 545 acres in the Gila National Forest in the southwestern part of the state. No structures were at risk, and no injuries were reported. About seven trails remained closed in the forest and more than 110 firefighters around the state were helping battle the blaze Saturday.
  • In Utah, rain and cooler temperatures helped slow a wildfire that burned nearly 2 square miles in the western part of the state. Firefighters contained the blaze late Friday. No structures were threatened, and no injuries were reported. Authorities say the fire was sparked accidentally Thursday by a passing car.
  • In Southern Oregon, crews worked Saturday to extinguish a 462-acre wildfire near the California and Nevada borders. The fire eight miles east of Lakeview, Ore., near Highway 140 was not immediately threatening people or property, but firefighters said they were concerned hot spots could ignite later in the fire season. The fire is believed to be human-caused and is burning on private land and in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.