400 more homes evacuated as Utah wildfire grows

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A wildfire near a Utah ski town has forced the evacuations of 400 more homes after the fire doubled in size amid high winds, authorities said Thursday.

The additional homes are east of the fire’s epicenter in Brian Head, said Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday in a news conference on KUED-TV. They add to the more than 700 people who have been out of their homes since Saturday when the fire was started by someone using a torch to burn weeds.

The fire is burning about 250 miles (402 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City near a tiny mountain town that is home to the Brian Head Resort. The alpine community is near several national monuments and parks in Utah’s red rock country.

The mountain bike and hiking trails, zip line and water tubing hill that lure summer visitors are closed while firefighters try and contain the blaze. The resort, which is a ski area in the winter, says on its website that it still plans to carry out summer activities that include music concerts and 4th of July events but that they don’t when they’ll be able to reopen.

One home has been destroyed in the blaze and another was damaged. It also caused minor damage at a Boy Scout camp in the area.

The unidentified person accused of starting the fire could face charges. Firefighting costs could rise to more than $1 million to fight, said Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The fire has spread to 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) and is heading toward the Panguitch Lake, where there are some homes, said Erin Darboven of the Bureau of Land Management. She said the lake is also used by recreationists.

Darboven said the stretch of Highway 143 that is closed has been extended to nearly 48 miles (77 kilometers) from Parowan to Panguitch. Previously, a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch was closed.

Anita DeLelles, a cabin owner in Brian Head, said she’s saddened, frustrated and angry that the action of one “careless person” is causing so much damage. She wasn’t there when the fire started, but people renting her cabin had to be evacuated.

She said she’s losing income from having to cancel reservations during busy summer months. But that’s secondary to her concern for what the town will look like when the fire is finally put out.

“I’m saddened by the devastation of the beauty of the place,” said DeLelles, who lives about 85 miles south in Santa Clara, Utah. “It’s almost surreal just thinking about how fast it’s grown.”

Garity Hathaway was at the top of a mountain hiking trail Saturday with her husband their two children when they saw the flames. They ended up running down a ski slope on the mountain in a hurry to get their things from their hotel and get out of town, cutting short their weekend getaway by one day.

“We were scared. We couldn’t tell how far away it was,” said Hathaway, of Orem, Utah. “It was too close for comfort.”

The Utah blaze is one of several burning in the U.S. Southwest as extreme heat makes it difficult for firefighters.

In New Mexico, authorities lifted the evacuation of more than 150 homes in the mountains east of Albuquerque as firefighters got a handle on fire that started Wednesday afternoon. It took crews a few hours to slow the flames and families were allowed to return to their homes by nightfall. The fire is now 75 percent contained.

In northern New Mexico, crews have started rehabilitation work on a fire that has charred more than 11 square miles (28 sq. kilometers) in the Bonita Canyon area. That fire was sparked by lightning nearly three weeks ago.

With the hot, dry conditions persisting, officials on the Santa Fe and Cibola national forests have imposed fire restrictions in hopes of limiting the chance of more human-caused fires.

Crews working in rugged terrain during a punishing heat wave are having a tough time building containment of a wildfire that’s burned nearly 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

More than 1,200 firefighters are on the line Thursday, aided by a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft. The blaze has been at just 10 percent containment for several days. No structures are threatened.

A wildfire that briefly shut down a highway near Bakersfield was 50 percent contained Wednesday after burning about 2.3 square miles (5.9 kilometers) of dry brush.

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