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Fires grow in Wyoming and neighboring states

Jun 24, 2012 - The Associated Press

Firefighters prepared for the worst this weekend as hot, dry and windy weather returned and revived a wildfire burning in the Medicine Bow National Forest in east-central Wyoming.

"It's batten down the hatches for sure; definitely gusty winds that are coming through camp," fire spokeswoman Laura McConnell said Friday afternoon. "...It definitely is the beginning of a very critical and crucial 48 hours for fire crews."

The fire was producing noticeably more smoke Friday afternoon after relative calm activity on Wednesday and Thursday, McConnell said.

Since it was discovered last Sunday, the Russell's Camp fire has burned about 4.5 square miles and is only about 10 percent contained. About 500 firefighters are battling the fire about 30 miles south of Glenrock.

Anticipating extreme fire conditions this weekend, fire crews prepared safety zones where firefighters could flee in case the Russell's Camp fire makes a sudden run, fire spokeswoman Susan Ford said. A safety zone is an area "where your crew can get to from the line in case the fire is going to burn over," Ford said.

The area would have "limited vegetation," where the crews "can safely survive 15 or 20 minutes of the fire blowing through there," she added.

In addition, backup fire lines are being constructed four or five miles from the fire to help stop any run, she said.

The National Weather Service posted red flag warnings for much of southern Wyoming, including the area with the Russell's Camp fire.

Ford said firefighters haven't been able to establish much fire line on the north side of the fire because of the rugged terrain.

The good news is that no residences or structures are in the immediate vicinity on that side of the fire, she said. So far, no structures have been lost since the fire started.

Separately, Gov. Matt Mead on Friday asked for a federal agricultural disaster declaration for all of Wyoming, except Teton County, because of drought. The declaration could provide some federal emergency aid to farmers and ranchers.

Utah

Unpredictable winds and high temperatures were challenging crews in their battle Saturday against a Utah wildfire that forced more than 2,300 people to flee their homes.

Firefighters remained posted around houses in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, after the blaze burned within a quarter mile of some homes Friday, says Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby.

No homes have burned, she said, and fire officials want to see what the nearly 9-square-mile fire on tinder-dry grasslands does Saturday afternoon before deciding whether residents can return to their homes. Rigby says an updated count shows an evacuation order affects nearly 600 homes and over 2,300 residents.

The fire, which officials believe was started Thursday by target shooters, is 30 percent contained.

Colorado

Firefighters have given up some ground to a wildfire that has scorched more than 118 square miles in northern Colorado and destroyed at least 191 homes.

Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg says some crews stationed near threatened homes Friday had to retreat for their safety, and the fire's containment has slipped from 60 percent to 45 percent. The fire is burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins.

Authorities issued nearly 1,000 evacuation notices Friday night, some of which went to residents who had only returned home two days earlier.

Meanwhile, a fire in near Mancos in southwestern Colorado prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 22 homes Saturday morning. The fire was reported Friday and has burned 700-800 acres, but fire spokeswoman Pam Wilson says the blaze burned actively overnight.

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