SALT LAKE CITY: Firefighters in U.S. Western states struggled to contain raging wind-stoked wildfires on Saturday as summer temperatures mounted, and a fresh blaze consumed more dwellings in Colorado even as Utah allowed 2,500 evacuees home for the night.
Colorado firefighters focused their efforts on the High Park Fire, a 81,190-acre (32,856-hectare) blaze in steep canyons west of Fort Collins that jumped containment lines on Friday and roared through a subdivision, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
As firefighters tried to push back the flames there, a fire that broke out 18 miles away in a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park spread through an area home to vacation dwellings and full-time residences in Estes Park.
"Approximately 16 structures were involved. I don't know the condition," said Reid Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, adding that resources had to be diverted from the High Park fire to battle the destructive 20-acre blaze.
Those losses were on top of the 200 other homes destroyed by the High Park fire in the two weeks since the lightning-sparked blaze was first spotted in Colorado, where high temperatures were in the triple digits in many areas on Saturday.
In Denver, a dense canopy of gray smoke could be seen drifting east from the fire zone over Colorado's high plains, at times blocking the view of the mountains, and the smell of burning timber wafted through the city.
The Colorado fire is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother who perished in her mountain cabin. The High Park Fire is already the state's most destructive and the second-largest on record in Colorado.
As of Friday, there were 15 large, uncontained wildfires being fought across the country, most in six Western states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona - the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported.
EVACUATION ORDERS LIFTED
Fanned by winds, Utah's so-called Dump Fire about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City grew to 6,023 acres on Saturday from 4,000 late Friday, and was only about 30 percent contained, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Cami Lee said.
The Utah fire is burning primarily south and west of Saratoga Springs, where wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour were expected to confound firefighting efforts, Lee said.
But Utah officials lifted evacuation orders on Saturday evening that had kept residents out of homes in Saratoga Springs and nearby Eagle Mountain at the edge of the fire, although residents were urged to stay on alert.
"We hope you're there for the night, but you need to be prepared," Eagle Mountain Mayor Heather Jackson said. "The winds are still blowing, the fire can still flare back up."
Officials said target shooters triggered the blaze near a city landfill on Thursday. It is the 20th fire in Utah started by target shooting this year, they said.
As fire managers had predicted, winds with gusts of more than 20 miles per hour pushed the flames westward toward homes on Saturday afternoon, Curry said. But containment lines held, persuading officials that residents could safely return.
On Saturday, officials revised down substantially the number of people evacuated from the two communities. Some 588 homes were evacuated in the towns on Friday, affecting up to 2,500 residents, according to Jason Curry of Utah's office of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
On Friday, officials had said up to 8,000 were evacuated. The change followed a more accurate count, Curry said.
Some 450 firefighters were on the ground Saturday in Utah, with support from two air tankers and several helicopters. One firefighter had suffered minor burns, but no other injuries had been reported.
Although federal authorities say the fire season got off to an early start this summer in parts of the Northern Rockies, the acreage burned nationwide is about on a par with the 10-year average for this time of year, according to fire agency records.
The biggest by far was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico, that state's largest on record, which has charred almost 300,000 acres. That blaze is nearly 90 percent contained.