A lightning-sparked wildfire has destroyed at least a dozen homes and threatens hundreds of others near a Utah resort town. The blaze near Park City was among several in the West, where fires have devoured dry grass and brush and burned to the edges of small communities in several states. Health officials were monitoring air quality in areas that have been blanketed by smoke for days.
Shifting winds in Utah pushed the fire toward homes in the Lake Rockport Estates subdivision about 10 miles outside of town, said Steve Rutter, a fire management officer with the state, who spoke at a news conference late Tuesday.
"We have homes that are completely surrounded by black, vegetation completely gone. But we were able to preserve the homes," he said. "It looks really ugly right now. It's a big black spot but there are still a lot of people who will be able to go home when we open it back up."
About 250 homes were still "imminently threatened," he said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert confirmed that homes had burned late Tuesday and said the fire has grown to 4,000 acres, or more than 6 square miles. It is 5 percent contained. Two Black Hawk helicopters will be used to fight the fire Wednesday.
More than 100 people were assigned to help fight the fire.
Evacuations were expected to remain in place until at least Wednesday evening.
Russ Moseley chose to stay in his home and fight back flames with a garden hose as it came within 150 feet, he told The Salt Lake Tribune. He said he could feel the heat radiating on his face and saw the fire swallow homes below his and blow up propane tanks.
"It's like being in Vietnam," Moseley said.
In west-central Utah's Skull Valley, more than 20 structures were threatened by the Patch Springs Fire that covered some 16 square miles. No evacuations had been ordered.
More than 200 firefighters were working to contain the largest blaze in Utah, which has jumped at least 6 miles across the border into Idaho. The lightning-caused State Fire has charred almost 33 square miles in steep and rugged terrain.
Nationwide, there were 35 large active fires burning Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. All were in the West.
Even so, fewer than 3 million acres have been burned by U.S. wildfires this year, NIFC reported, well below the 5.9 million acres that had burned by this time last year and 6.3 million acres that had burned through mid-August in 2011.
In Idaho, fire crews prepared to capitalize on favorable winds and lower temperatures to continue burnout operations around the small mountain community of Pine, where the Elk Complex remained the nation's No. 1 firefighting priority.
The lightning-caused fire had burned across more than 140 square miles, fire spokeswoman Ludie Bond said.
No buildings burned overnight Monday, though fire officials were still tallying structure losses in the community of Fall Creek.
Pine and the neighboring mountain hamlet of Featherville, 8 miles from the flames, remained threatened.
A wildfire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., prompted a small number of evacuations Tuesday, Garfield County Sheriff's Office spokesman Walter Stowe said. About 60 firefighters were battling the Red Canyon Fire with help from aircraft.
The dry conditions were prompting warnings from land managers across the West, including Wyoming, where rangers complained that too many campfires haven't been properly snuffed out.
Meanwhile, health district officials in northern Nevada were closely monitoring air quality concerns after a smoky haze from a wildfire in the Tahoe National Forest more than 60 miles away.
Written and photos by Assoicaited Press