Western Wildfires Continue as Evacuations Ordered in New Mexico

Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes and an interstate was closed in two of the many wildfires that dotted the West on Friday.

In southwestern New Mexico's Gila National Forest, a lightning-sparked fire that burned at least 7,000 acres forced the evacuation of about 200 homes after wind gusts of about 40 mph pushed the blaze over a hand-cleared line. No homes had been damaged by afternoon, authorities said.

Fire officials had attempted to guide the fire into areas where heavy vegetation needed to be burned off, but decided Friday to work more aggressively to contain the blaze. It was consuming pinon, juniper and ponderosa pine trees northeast of Pinos Altos.

Lightning also sparked 15 fires that burned roughly 30,000 acres of mostly grassland in northeastern New Mexico.

South of Albuquerque, firefighters battled a blaze that temporarily shut down Interstate 25, a casino and a resort and forced the evacuation of about 30 homes. The highway reopened Friday morning and the evacuation order was lifted around noon Friday.

The winds had calmed Friday and firefighters worked to snuff small spot fires that remained, said Don Scott, deputy chief of emergency management for the Bernalillo County Fire Department.

"At this point, it's still very, very small," Scott said. "It's putting out a very small amount of smoke."

In Alpine, Ariz., a 1,300-acre fire that broke out Thursday burning at a relatively slower pace Friday. Crews stopped the forward progress with bulldozers and backfires overnight.

Another northeastern Arizona wildfire reached 3,100 acres and was only 5 percent contained, officials said.

Residents of about 1,000 homes in Flagstaff, Ariz., were allowed to return Thursday, a day after they were evacuated as wind pushed flames from a pine forest toward them. The 120-acre fire crept within feet of a half-dozen houses, but crews managed to save all of them.

In northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon, three lightning-triggered wildfires burned a collective total of 2,515 acres, Kaibab National Forest officials said Friday. The fires were allowed to burn because they are not threatening any property and remained within boundaries established by fire managers.

In southern Colorado, all 100 people who left their homes near a 700-acre fire were given the all-clear to return late Thursday. The fire, near Westcliffe about 100 miles south of Denver, was 50 percent contained.

Wildfires also burned in Alaska, Utah and Texas.

A 20-acre fire has broken out in Washoe Valley, south of Reno, Nevada.

Six air tankers and one helicopter are assisting more than ten engines and 150 personnel in fighting the flames.

The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center says structures are threatened, but the fire doesn't seem to be spreading at this time..

Fire crews trained in fighting structure fires are standing by.

In Alaska, a steady drizzle calmed a vast fire in the state's interior Friday, giving crews a break, state fire officials said.

Predicted winds near the Parks Highway fire had not materialized by afternoon, although that could change later on, said fire information spokesman Tom Kempton.

New mapping showed the fire at 70,269 acres. Kempton said most of the growth was on the northeast edge south of the Tanana River, where some scattered areas were still producing smoke.

Fire managers had worried that a shift in winds would push the wildfire toward the highway. They also were concerned that winds would threaten about 30 houses south of the blaze, outside Anderson and Clear Air Force Base. But those concerns were "greatly diminished" Friday, Kempton said.

The fire was 30 percent contained, according to Kempton.

He said there were no longer any restrictions on highway or rail travel in the area.

Continued cooler weather was also helping fire crews Friday to contain two large fires in Utah.

The Navajo Mountain fire, on the northern, Utah side of the mountain on the Navajo Indian Reservation along the Utah-Arizona border, was still at 5 percent containment, but officials were optimistic that number would grow by the end of the day.

"Things are looking really well. The wind forecast yesterday didn't materialize so that's kept things a little more controlled," said Karen Takai, a fire spokeswoman.

Takai said cooler temperatures have allowed crews to strengthen fire lines. The 445 people working the 3,000 acre blaze would be managing those lines and using aircraft to drop water on hot spots Friday, she said.

The Buckskin fire, burning 1,400 acres about 20 miles east of Kanab, also near the Arizona border, was 55 percent contained Friday, said LaCee Bartholomew, a Bureau of Land Management fire spokeswoman.

The fire burned under some power lines Thursday. Power to the lines, which feed Las Vegas, was shut off and rerouted through Phoenix so no outages occurred, Bartholomew said. She said the lines would likely be turned back on Friday.

Several hand crews, a helicopter and heavy air tanker would remain on the fire Friday, but some of those resources would likely be reassigned at the end of the day, she said.

The 1,463-acre Blackbird Mine fire six miles east of Marysvale and the 28-acre Meadow fire eight miles southeast of Fillmore continued to be managed for resource benefits instead of being suppressed.