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Lull in hot weather, rain help crews make gains at wildfires burning across West
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) ¯¯¯ Firefighters around the West were taking advantage of improved weather on Friday to make inroads against wildfires that have destroyed homes, forced evacuations and scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of timber and brush.
In Redding, Calif., a growing blaze was threatening 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."
In Colorado, crews expected to have the state's most destructive wildfire fully contained. Colorado Springs officials lifted evacuation orders for 126 more homes at a 28-square-mile fire that 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 fire appeared to have started near a popular hiking trail west of Colorado Springs, The Denver Post (http://bit.ly/RqTtsM) reported, though the cause remained under investigation.
In Wyoming and Montana, a lull in hot weather and shifting winds helped firefighters at separate blazes. Temperatures in the mid-80s, higher humidity and calm winds aided crews at a 95-square-mile fire northwest of Newcastle, a town of about 3,500 near northeast Wyoming's Black Hills. About 25 families were evacuated from Newcastle's outskirts.
In southeast Wyoming, aircraft, including four large air tankers, helped increase containment of a 16-square-mile fire to 51 percent. The tankers included two military C130s from a fleet that was reduced to seven when one crashed Monday in South Dakota's Black Hills.
"We really knocked it for a change, instead of us getting whacked," said Larry Helmerick, spokesman at the fire. Authorities planned to allow more people to return to dozens of evacuated summer cabins near the Colorado line in Medicine Bow National Forest.
Firefighters also reported progress on a 145-square-mile fire surrounding Laramie Peak, about 100 miles northwest of Cheyenne.
In southeastern Montana, more than 1,300 firefighters made headway on five blazes that officials are managing as one 480-square-mile wildfire so they can quickly deploy resources.
"Slow and steady. We want the lines to hold," fire information officer Dixie Dies said.
At a 72-square-mile fire near Fort Howes, managers worked to connect containment lines dug by residents.
In Utah, rain and cooler temperatures helped crews hold lines on blaze that has burned nearly 13 square miles about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City. The fire threatened 550 cabins and summer homes in Dixie National Forest. Up to a quarter-inch of rain fell on Utah's largest wildfire, a 160-square-mile blaze east of Delta.
The National Weather Service said moderate temperatures were expected in Colorado and Wyoming through the weekend but warned that hot and dry weather was expected for Montana.
Associated Press writers Matt Gouras in Helena, Mont.; Paul Foy in Salt Lake City; Colleen Slevin in Denver and Terry Collins in San Francisco contributed to this report.