Western Blazes Threaten Hundreds of Homes

Wildfires raced through a national forest in Arizona and a desert community in Southern California on Wednesday, burning several homes and threatening hundreds more in an outbreak fueled by gusting winds and scorching temperatures.

In Nevada, firefighters took advantage of calm winds to tame a fire that burned 750 acres near Carson City (search) and sent up a plume of swirling smoke visible 30 miles to the north. Firefighters had to deal with steep, rocky terrain, open mine shafts and lots of rattlesnakes, fire spokesman Kirk Frosdick said.

A 1,300-acre grass fire in California burned into an area of the Mojave Desert about 100 miles east of downtown Los Angeles which includes about 2,000 scattered ranches and homes, said Dave Dowling, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County (search) Fire Department.

The fire, fueled by thick grass and temperatures topping 100 degrees, created flames up to 30 feet high. About 200 firefighters were supported by six airplanes and two helicopters.

"I can stand in my back yard and see the flames," Syble Breihan said by phone as she watered down the roof of her home. "I can smell the smoke. It's thick."

With flames just a few blocks from her home, Breihan, 52, said she packed her car with important documents, photographs, her two dogs and her Jimmy Buffett recordings so she would be ready to flee at a moment's notice.

Although the flames had threatened as many as 700 homes at one point, only about two dozen remained in danger late in the afternoon, said California Department of Forestry (search) spokesman Bill Peters.

The blaze in Morongo Valley began spreading after a house caught fire, said Peters.

Gene Rotstein and his wife fled their home on Paradise Avenue, and said they were "bombed" with fire retardant from helicopters as they scrambled to leave.

"The last I saw as I was evacuated, it was burning the house above mine, about 50 feet away," Rotstein, 67, said from his hardware store, where he and his wife gathered with their dogs.

Sharon Aiken said parents came to evacuate children from her day-care center. One parent couldn't get out of her house, because the fire was two blocks away, she said.

"The parents were all panicked, calling. I let them know that we were in no danger," Aiken said. "But the wind is really whipping up here."

Flames later reached into Joshua Tree National Park, home to the famous spiky plants — some thousands of years old.

A second fire in California broke out about 35 miles away and burned 400 acres but was not threatening any structures, authorities said.

In Arizona, flames forced the evacuation of an estimated 200 to 400 homes from a subdivision in a national forest about 20 miles northeast of Phoenix.

It is one of two lightning-caused brush fires close to merging in the Tonto National Forest. No injuries were reported, and there were no reports of structural damage.

The blazes were part of a fire complex that grew to more than 10,000 acres during the afternoon — with forest officials unable to determine the exact acreage because of heavy smoke blanketing the sky.

In Nevada, the fire near Carson City, the state capital, was whipped by winds gusting to 40 mph and fueled by dry grass. No homes were threatened and no injuries have been reported from the fire, which started Tuesday.