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Thousands evacuate after shooting sparks Utah fire

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[June 23, 2012]  SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah (AP) -- Thousands of residents whose homes were in danger of being threatened by a Utah wildfire have had to find shelter elsewhere as strong winds fueled a blaze that officials believe was started by target shooters.

Residents of at least 2,300 homes in northern Utah were evacuated Friday, a day after the more than 6-square-mile fire started near the Saratoga Springs landfill, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. High winds then helped fan the flames onto tinder-dry grasslands.

Authorities were initially worried as flames moved toward property owned by an explosives company, but the focus turned to saving homes as winds kicked up and the fire moved toward Saratoga Springs.

Forecasters expect strong winds to persist through the weekend.

On Friday, fire officials were calling in additional aircraft and extra ground crews.

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said he feared the fire could take down the area's power grid, shutting off electricity to up to 7,000 homes.

"Several power poles and transformers ... up and down the fire lines have burned," Tracy said Friday evening. "If the fire gets a couple more critical poles and drops that grid, wires down on the ground, it will black out this entire area."

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby said the 2,300 houses evacuated include residents who voluntarily left, along with those ordered to leave.

BLM officials say they believe the blaze was caused when a bullet hit a rock and sparked the fire. This is the 20th target-shooting related fire this year in Utah, they said.

One firefighter had suffered minor burns, and no structural damage had been reported, said Jason Curry, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

A continued mix of hot, windy and extremely dry conditions has raised the fire danger across Utah and parts of Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.

At a wildfire burning on more than 69,000 acres in northern Colorado, some homes were being evacuated Friday because of several spot fires started by winds outside the main fire. Some of those residents were evacuated after the fire flared up on Sunday and had only returned home Wednesday.

The mix of conditions that makes it easy for new fires to start and spread and cause existing fires to flare up is expected to last through Saturday there.

The fire west of Fort Collins has now destroyed at least 191 homes. It's also blamed for the death of a woman found dead at her ranch.

In southern Colorado, a new 300-acre fire near Mancos was threatening at least 10 structures and prompted officials to evacuate some homes east of town, federal officials said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper's office said he signed executive orders releasing $6.2 million more in state disaster money to fight the fire and two others.

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The northern Colorado fire will have $5 million more available, on top of $20 million made available by a previous order. The fire has qualified for 75 percent federal reimbursement for firefighting costs, Hickenlooper's office said. A fire near Lake George will get $1 million, and the Stuart Hole fire in Larimer County will receive $200,000. The disaster money is coming partly from reserve funds.


  • In Colorado, heat and low humidity is also a concern at the 1,150-acre wildfire burning near Lake George, which is 57 percent contained. A fire burning for over a month near Pagosa Springs has grown by about 1,300 acres. Two ranches have been evacuated.

  • In Nevada, a wildfire that has charred nearly 12,000 acres of rugged terrain in northeast Nevada near the Utah line is 60 percent contained. It was started by a planned burn that escaped June 9.

  • In Wyoming, crews were preparing safety zones where firefighters can flee in case a wildfire that has scorched more than 4.5 square miles in Medicine Bow National Forest makes a run. It's 10 percent contained.

  • In New Mexico, a fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses, the largest in state history, has blackened 463 square miles in the Gila Wilderness and is 80 percent contained. Meanwhile, a 360-acre fire along the Rio Grande on the northern edge of Albuquerque was 50 percent contained. Nearby residents were on alert, but no one has been evacuated.

  • In Arizona, officials battling a wildfire in eastern Arizona say they're prepared for high winds and low humidity. Firefighters have created containments lines around the community of Young and burned out fuel ahead of the fire. Crews are reinforcing those lines and patrolling for spot fires. The Poco Fire is nearly 12,000 acres and 25 percent contained. More than 740 people and several helicopters are fighting the fire.

  • In Hawaii, the largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 5,200 acres on the Big Island.

[Associated Press; By LYNN DeBRUIN]

AP writers Brian Skoloff and Paul Foy contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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