Firefighters Gain Ground on Western Blazes

Residents who fled a windblown wildfire began returning home as the blaze turned away from their upscale community near Phoenix, and firefighters also gained ground on a wildfire that burned homes in California.

"We want to get a message out: Come back home," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Friday as evacuees returned to the Tonto Hills (search) neighborhood. "We'll protect you. We'll escort you to your residence."

The order was lifted late Thursday, and Arpaio said about 67 people had returned by Friday morning to the subdivision of some 120 million-dollar houses 20 miles northeast of Phoenix. Authorities were still assessing damage in Camp Creek (search), a summer-residence community, before deciding whether to let people return.

The blaze has burned about 46,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 250 homes.

Ten cabins in Camp Creek and two homes in the Tonto Hills area burned, according to Mayor Vincent Francia of nearby Cave Creek (search).

"We're not out of the woods. Are we feeling good about it? Yes," said Jim Clawson, a liaison officer with the team fighting the fire.

Marco D'Ambrosio and his wife were checking on the status of their home Thursday night when they learned they could return. "I guess we're the lucky ones," D'Ambrosio said.

In California, firefighters hoped to surround by Friday a wildfire that burned 3,000 acres of desert brush. The fire destroyed six homes and threatened as many as 700 for a time Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said the danger had mostly subsided by Friday, but that the blazes should serve as a reminder of what's to come.

"We're in for a hot, dangerous year," said California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi (search), as he toured burned out-homes. He noted that heavy winter rains spawned enormous vegetation growth, making good conditions for wildfires.

Fire crews in Utah and Idaho also battled lightning-caused fires Thursday, though no structures were threatened and no one had been displaced.

In southern Nevada, firefighters tried to control at least 10 lightning-sparked fires that together had burned more than 19,000 acres and cast a smoky haze over the Las Vegas Strip.

The largest charred 15,000 acres south of Las Vegas and prompted the evacuation of 100 people from a Boy Scout camp. Officials described the evacuation as a preventive measure.