Firefighters Try to Protect Arizona Homes; Cooler Weather Helps

A rise in humidity calmed a wildfire burning a half-mile from an exclusive desert enclave Monday, greatly reducing the danger to dozens of houses, officials said.

The same blaze destroyed more than 300 houses last month in and around the vacation hamlet of Summerhaven, high on Mount Lemmon. As of Monday, the fire had burned at least 81,000 acres in the mountains north of Tucson.

Humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent extinguished flames in some areas above the homes in Ventana Canyon (search) and cooled the fire in others, said Brad Smith, a fire behavior analyst with the team fighting the blaze.

Firefighters used aircraft to drop water and retardant along the fire's leading edge, but because of the change in the fire's behavior, they dropped plans to burn away vegetation uphill from the homes.

Still, "here's all sorts of things that could happen," said Duane Archuleta, an operations chief for the fire team.

On Sunday, residents were urged to evacuate about 200 homes, and about 250 guests had to leave a resort hotel as the wind drove the fire downhill into Ventana Canyon, on the edge of Tucson.

Officials said the voluntary evacuations were requested in part so firefighters would not have to worry about residents in the area. Fire officials expressed confidence that the homes would be safe because many of them are made of stone and brick.

In northern New Mexico, crews planned to bulldoze a firebreak to protect Taos Canyon (search) — site of summer and year-round homes, bed-and-breakfast inns and rental cabins — from a 3,000-acre blaze near Taos Pueblo.

The southern edge of the lightning-caused fire was still several miles from the canyon, fire information officer Peter D'Aquanni said.

Elsewhere, fires were active in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Washington. So far this year, wildfires have charred about 924,000 acres, less than one-third the acreage burned during the same period last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (search).