- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 4, 2012

DENVER — Rains cooled Colorado wildfires Wednesday, but more than a dozen wildfires elsewhere in the West continued chewing through bone-dry pine and brush as firefighters working through the holiday kept a nervous eye for fireworks and other hazards.

Wildfires in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado sent haze and smoke across Colorado’s Front Range, prompting air-quality health advisories as firefighters warned of growing fires in sparsely populated areas.

In Colorado Springs, there was good news in the fight against the most destructive fire in state history.

Light rains that fell overnight helped calm the Waldo Canyon Fire, which has scorched 28 square miles, killed two and destroyed almost 350 homes. Firefighters predicted full containment of the fire by Sunday, with more rain, cooler temperatures and higher humidity predicted through the weekend.

Air Force tanker planes returned to the flight line for firefighting missions on Tuesday after a deadly weekend crash. C-130 planes were in the air Tuesday fighting a wildfire south of Laramie, Wyo., that grew to 14 square miles and has forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

The forecast wasn’t as kind in eastern Montana, where a mammoth 380-square-mile fire in Custer National Forest was gobbling up pine, juniper and sage with help from gusty winds. The fire has burned 16 homes.

Firefighters gave the blaze “extreme” growth potential, with wind gusts up to 45 mph predicted. Temperatures were expected to reach the 100s.

As firefighting efforts continued, holiday fireworks were canceled across the region. Colorado officials were calling off holiday displays from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, while law enforcement was warning of hefty fines for people caught violating personal fireworks bans across the region.

Residents in some parched areas were joining police. In one Colorado Springs neighborhood, a homemade sign read, “FAIR WARNING: Anyone using or allowing use of fireworks in this neighborhood will be dealt with harshly! And that doesn’t mean just by the police!”

An investigation continued through the holiday on the cause of the deadly Colorado Springs fire. Eight agencies, led by the U.S. Forest Service, were investigating how the fire started, said Jeff Kramer, spokesman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

“You’re literally working that origin area down on your hands and knees,” Paul Steensland, a retired U.S. Forest Service investigator, told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates wildfire-fighting efforts nationwide, said 45 large fires were burning Wednesday, including 36 fires in nine Western states. In Colorado alone, three fires have destroyed more than 600 homes and killed six residents.