Fires still sweeping through West

Hundreds are evacuated in Utah, while firefighters also battle blazes in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Associated Press
Published June 26, 2005

GUNLOCK, Utah - About 350 people were evacuated from their homes Saturday as a wildfire that has burned about 40,000 acres approached their southwestern Utah community.

Elsewhere, firefighters continued to battle blazes in California, Arizona and Nevada that already have consumed more than 200,000 acres in recent days.

The blaze threatening Gunlock, about 330 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, was a combination of five smaller fires started by lightning Wednesday that had joined and was expected to continue spreading Saturday.

"Depending on what the winds do, it definitely could get close to Gunlock," Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said.

Hyrum Smith, who runs a cattle ranch near Gunlock, said he wanted to wait and see if the fire got any closer before leaving his land.

"Nobody knows what it's going to do, so we're just kind of watching it hour by hour here," he said. "They're taking precautions and asking people to evacuate, which is the smart thing to do. But it would have to cross some pretty rugged area to get to the town."

Also Saturday, firefighters near Kelso, Calif., struggled to surround a 52,000-acre wildfire in the rugged Mojave National Preserve, which includes historic mines and sites with ancient Indian pictographs.

The blaze has destroyed five homes and two cabins built in the late 1800s, while several dozen other homes were threatened by strong winds expected Saturday.

The fire was fueled by grass, sagebrush, juniper and pinyon pine that had grown unusually dense after last winter's abundant rainfall.

The fire was only 15 percent contained Saturday, Ranger Linda Slater said.

A brush and grass fire that has charred 60,000 acres in Arizona was about 20 percent contained Saturday after turning away from an upscale community northeast of Phoenix. Evacuees began returning home Friday.

Arizona fire officials said they were concerned about a threat of more thunderstorms that could fan flames and generate lightning.

In Nevada, a wildfire raging in the mountains southwest of the Las Vegas Strip grew to more than 24,000 acres Saturday, prompting the closure of a state highway that leads to Death Valley National Park.