Source AP ©

Dozens of wildfires ravage western U.S.

Overnight rain and cooler temperatures slowed a South Dakota wildfire that destroyed 27 houses and killed a person, as other fires blackened the landscape in California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Montana and Oregon.

Many of the fires were started by lightning and fueled by dry conditions, made worse by a heat wave that sizzled across the western United States last week.

The South Dakota fire had raced out of a canyon and killed a homeowner who went back to try to save his belongings, a top fire official said early Monday.

The change in weather gave firefighters a chance to shore up their fire lines, though conditions could shift again for the worse, state wildland fire coordinator Joe Lowe told crews at a morning briefing held in light rain.

"This fire is not over yet," he cautioned. "This fire could come back to life again."

The blaze was started by lightning on Saturday, and by Monday it had covered an estimated 11 square miles (28.5 square. kilometers) southwest of Hot Springs. It was 20 percent contained and crews expected to have it fully contained by Thursday.

In addition to the death in South Dakota, smoke from a major Utah fire was blamed for two deaths in a weekend motorcycle accident, and another blaze still active in Utah killed three people last week.

Crews in California's eastern Sierra Nevada gained ground against a fire that had charred at least 34,000 acres (13,760 hectares), or 53 square miles (137 sq. kilometers), in the Inyo National Forest.

That fire was 55 percent contained Monday after cooler temperatures and lighter wind allowed firefighters to make their first real progress, forestry officials said. Full containment was expected by Wednesday.

The flames skirted the popular John Muir Wilderness and destroyed at least one home. Crews worked to protect major power transmission lines in the area feeding the eastern Sierra front and greater Los Angeles, fire information officer Jim Wilkins said.

A wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California blackened more than 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares) in rural hills Sunday in Santa Barbara County.

A water-dropping helicopter crashed near the Los Padres fire and two pilots suffered minor injuries, Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Eli Iskow said.

The biggest wildfire in Utah history had charged across more than 300,000 (121,408 hectares) acres or 468 square miles (1,212 square kilometers) of extremely dry sagebrush, cheat grass and pinion juniper in the central part of the state.

A fire in southern Arizona had blackened about 3,500 acres (1,416 hectares) in the mountains near the telescope complex at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

In Nevada, about 1,500 evacuees were allowed home hours after a 25,000-acre (10,117-hectare) wildfire destroyed an electrical substation and several outbuildings, shut down a highway, delayed trains and killed livestock. The fire was 10 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported.

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