Firefighters expect wildfire near Grand Canyon won't grow

Thursday, May 1, 2008

PHOENIX -- Fire crews that had initially feared hot, windy weather would inflame a wildfire that burned lazily on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park expressed confidence Wednesday the fire would not grow.

Firefighters were able to hold the 3.2-square-mile fire behind containment lines despite wind gusts as high as 30 mph; it was 60 percent contained. Winds were expected to be calmer today, when crews plan to put out hot spots.

"It's looking good," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Brown. "The winds weren't as bad as what they were predicting."

Gusts as high as 45 mph had been predicted, and a wind advisory had been put in effect. The 2,030-acre fire has been burning ponderosa pine and has come within a mile of the park's southern boundary.

Crews felt confident the fire would not grow any further, Brown said.

The blaze was about 10 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon Village but was moving away from the popular tourist site. No homes are threatened, and businesses and freeways remain open.

It was spotted Tuesday afternoon and grew rapidly. Authorities believe it was caused by humans and were investigating.

Windy conditions one state over led authorities to call for voluntary evacuations of more than a dozen homes in New Mexico's Manzano Mountains. A wildfire there was 95 percent contained before gusts pushed it over containment lines, said fire information officer Keyco Lueras.

The homes affected were in a subdivision in Manzano, and residents in nearby Torreon were also put on notice.

Firefighters also had made progress against wildfires near Reno, Nev., and in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

Diminished wind and temperatures near freezing during the night helped firefighters working on a brush and grass blaze south of Reno. On Tuesday, the fire had closed a highway and led to evacuation of an elementary school.

"With lower temperatures the fire cooled down really well," Steve Frady, spokesman for the Reno Fire Department, said early Wednesday.

The fire was estimated at 962 acres, about 1.5 square miles, and was 75 percent contained, Frady said. It was moving away from homes after burning right around four hillside houses Tuesday when the flames were fanned by wind gusting to 70 mph.

Busy U.S. 395, the main thoroughfare between Reno and Carson City, was briefly closed during Tuesday's evening rush hour, but by daybreak Wednesday no flames or smoke were visible from the highway.

In Southern California, which also had higher humidity and lower temperatures, the wildfire that threatened hundreds of homes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains was reduced to mostly embers and was nearly contained, fire officials said Wednesday. Humidity was lower and Wednesday's highs were forecast only in the 60s, down from 90s earlier in the week.

"It is looking real good," said Cliff Johnson, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. He estimated containment at 88 percent, with the blaze expected to be fully surrounded by Friday.

The last evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday for the 1,000 people forced from homes in Sierra Madre, a small city about 15 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Another 700-acre blaze burned uncontained in the San Jacinto Wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest. The blaze was on the remote Apache Peak near Pacific Crest Trail, about six miles east of the Riverside County community of Mountain Center, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Only hand crews were fighting the fire, which erupted Tuesday 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

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