PHOENIX May 24 Winds bringing a blast of damp
Pacific Ocean air cut firefighters a break on Thursday as they
battled to stamp out several dangerous forest and brush fires
burning in five Southwestern U.S. states.
Blazes in rugged, mountainous areas of Arizona, Colorado,
Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have forced the evacuation of a few
small towns and torched at least 170 square miles (440 square
km) of forest, brush and grass since mid-month.
The Arizona fires were the first major blazes in the Grand
Canyon state this year after a record 2011 fire season in which
nearly 2,000 fires charred more than 1,500 square miles (3,900
square km), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
More than 1,100 firefighters using aircraft and hand tools
made progress toward containing the Southwest's most dangerous
conflagration, the so-called Gladiator Fire in Arizona.
That fire, which has torched more than 27 square miles (70
square km) of ponderosa pine and brush some 40 miles (64 km)
north of Phoenix, was 30 percent contained on Thursday, up from
26 percent a day earlier.
"The winds we've gotten here in the last 24 hours have
brought in some moisture from Baja (California)," said Dave
Killebrew, a spokesman for the local fire incident team.
"Humidity reached up to as high as 50 percent in some areas
of the fire, which is excellent ... That means that the fuels
won't be nearly as volatile as they have been for the last few
days when we've had relative humidity down as low as 3-5
percent," he added.
Killebrew said good progress was being made securing
containment lines around the blaze, which forced the evacuation
of the town of Crown King and three other tiny communities
In northern Nevada, lighter winds and higher humidity helped
crews' efforts to curb the Topaz Ranch Estates wildfire that has
razed more than 9 square miles (23 square km) of brush south of
Carson City, charring two homes and more than a dozen
No homes were immediately threatened an evacuation order was
lifted on Wednesday. While gusting winds challenged
firefighters, rains and cooler temperatures where expected to
help crews bring the flames under control by Saturday.
"Any storm front that comes off the sierras is preceded by
extremely high winds," incident team spokesman John Stonelake
told Reuters. "If we can get through the wind event, things are
looking pretty good," he added.
Authorities in New Mexico, meanwhile, continued to monitor
the Southwest's largest blaze, a complex comprising two
fast-burning fires that charred more than 110 square miles (285
square km) of steep, rugged terrain in the Gila Wilderness area.
The so-called Whitewater Baldy Complex triggered the
precautionary evacuation of Willow Creek summer community this
week and the closure of several hiking trails.
Crews battling the 25-square-mile (65-square-km) Sunflower
Fire, in Arizona, had succeeded in reinforcing control lines and
it was more than 40 percent under control.
A large human-caused wildfire that scorched 18.5 square
miles (48 square km) in Mexico before creeping across the border
to Arizona was running out of fuel Thursday after consuming 50
acres (20 hectares) of grass, brush and oak in the Coronado
Utah firefighters battling a 2,200-acre (890-hectare) blaze
on public and private land southeast of Hurricane, about 290
miles (470 km) south of Salt Lake City said they expected to
bring it under full control on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Jennifer Dobner in Utah; Editing by