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Lull in hot weather helps crews at Western blazes

Associated Press Modified: July 7, 2012 at 12:45 am •  Published: July 7, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Firefighters around the West on Friday were taking advantage of improving weather conditions to make strides against stubborn wildfires — even containment in some locales — that have destroyed homes, forced evacuations and scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of timber and brush.

In Redding, Calif., 1,000 firefighters spent the day battling a growing blaze that threatened dozens of homes amid tinder-dry conditions. It erupted into a 2-square-mile fire less than a day after it was spotted.

"Even though there are no extreme winds and temperatures, this fire really burned because of how dry the conditions are," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "That's concerning because when you don't have peak fire conditions, you still have a blaze that burned so quickly."

Berlant said the fire was 60 percent contained late Friday and firefighters expected to full containment sometime Saturday. Five homes were damaged and two outbuildings destroyed, Berlant said.

In Colorado, fire officials declared the state's most destructive wildfire 98 percent contained Friday night. Colorado Springs officials lifted evacuation orders for 126 more homes at a 28-square-mile fire that started late last month and has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed two people.

Coroner's officials identified the victims as 74-year-old William Everett and his wife, Barbara, 73. Dispatch recordings show the deadly fire appeared to have started near a popular hiking trail west of Colorado Springs, The Denver Post ( ) reported, though the cause remained under investigation.

But even as crews extended their control over several destructive fires, rainy conditions in Colorado caused flash flood concerns in some burned out areas.

Authorities said Colorado 14 was closed for part of Friday through Poudre Canyon after crews cleared debris from mudslides in an area burned by the High Park wildfire, which charred 136 square miles last month. The rain-caused mudslides and flash flooding deposited branches, ash and mud up to a foot deep in some places.

Burned hillsides are vulnerable to erosion and flooding during downpours because they have less vegetation to soak up rain, and burned soils can repel water.

In Wyoming and Montana, a lull in hot weather, damp conditions and shifting winds helped thousands of firefighters at separate blazes.

The largest of Wyoming's fires, the roughly 150-square-mile Arapaho Fire burning northwest of Wheatland, received a good soaking from a rainstorm Thursday night, state Forester Bill Crapser said. More than 1,000 firefighters have been assigned to the fire, which is 65 percent contained by late Friday night.

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