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Crews battle huge Calif. blazes

Published July 16, 2006

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. - 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.

Fire officials reported some progress on the fires, which covered more than 110 square miles in Southern California 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.

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 camping in remote locations.

[Last modified July 16, 2006, 02:04:09]

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