By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press
LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) — Wildfires across the West drove hundreds of people from their homes from California to Colorado, where nuns living in a monastery and Boy Scouts at camp were among those forced to flee ahead of the flames.
Firefighters are making progress on a 92 square-mile wildfire in northern Colorado despite hot, dry weather. The blaze west of Fort Collins was 50 percent contained Tuesday after firefighters labored in temperatures in the 90s to extend lines around the blaze the day before. Expected strong winds didn't materialize Monday, but breezy conditions were forecast Tuesday along with more hot weather.
Eight more homes were found burned on Monday, bringing the damage so far to at least 189 — the most in the state's history. Houses in the area already burned by the fire are still at risk because of pockets of unburned fuel.
Other wildfires were burning in warm, arid weather from Wyoming to Arizona to Southern California, where a blaze that prompted the evacuation of at least 150 homes was 30 percent contained Monday.
Fire officials warned that the 907-acre fire in eastern San Diego County still threatens 200 houses, sheds and other buildings. The fire has destroyed at least one home.
In Colorado, another fire that started Sunday in the foothills west of Colorado Springs prompted evacuations of residents, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area. The Orthodox Church in America said a monastery of nuns was also evacuated.
That fire has burned about 1 1/2 square miles, and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry conditions.
As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land since it began June 9, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.
Deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, Sunday on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff's department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate. His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.
Jeff Corum, whose home burned on the first day of the northern Colorado fire, described whirling, unpredictable winds that drove the blaze.
"That's what it's been doing, back and forth," Corum said. "It's just like a washing machine, and it's just rolling up there, and that's the way the mountains are."
Corum grabbed some clothing and two weapons when he fled, but not his credit cards. He's spent a few nights in a motel, some at a Red Cross evacuation center and some in his truck.
On Monday, Rocky Mountain National Park enacted a ban on all campfires because of the threat of wildfires in Colorado. The park normally allows campfires in designated fire rings, but the ban will prohibit those, as well as charcoal grilling, for the first time since September 2010.
Authorities also are trying to enforce a ban on using private fireworks in Colorado.
Across the West:
— In California, nearly 500 personnel have been dispatched to fight the fire east of Campo, in San Diego County. Water-dropping helicopters doused the area Monday, and firefighters braced for temperatures to rise and winds to pick up speed. Still, fire officials expected the blaze to be fully contained Tuesday night.
— In Idaho, a fast-moving wildfire near Mountain Home burned down five homes and destroyed several outbuildings Monday evening. The blaze quickly moved through the area as Southwest Idaho remained under a red flag warning Sunday and Monday because of high temperatures, low humidity and high winds — conditions conducive to explosive and destructive fires.
— In Wyoming, a grass fire destroyed four homes in a small community outside Casper on Sunday, but no one was injured. Another wildfire discovered Sunday in the Medicine Bow National Forest grew to more than 3 square miles Monday amid wind gusts up to 40 mph. Some residents have been advised to evacuate.
— In Nevada, crews were fighting a 34-square-mile fire north of Ely that has burned a mobile home. A brush fire destroyed one home and seriously damaged another north of Reno, only a few miles from where a separate brush fire destroyed two mobile homes and several vehicles the day before.
Several residences were evacuated and a plume of smoke was visible across town when a fire was reported on the east side of Sun Valley shortly before 4 p.m. Monday. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported at least three homes suffered some damage, including one that was destroyed.
— In New Mexico, firefighters were taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Another fire broke out Monday and burned four structures along a 5-mile stretch of the San Juan River in far northwestern New Mexico. Another fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.
— In Arizona, firefighters were focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes.
— In Utah, a 208-acre blaze on the west side of Lake Mountain was fully contained Monday morning, officials said. The fire started Saturday and was human-caused. No structures are threatened.
— In northwest Nebraska, firefighters were attacking a wildfire reported Sunday that has blackened roughly 1,500 to 2,000 acres. No injuries have been reported, and there have been no reports of buildings being burned, authorities said Monday.