- Associated Press - Thursday, July 5, 2012

DENVER (AP) — Parts of Colorado celebrated Independence Day sans fireworks with some communities banning the holiday displays to guard against the further spread of wildfire across the region.

Though rain cooled Colorado’s blazes Wednesday, more than a dozen wildfires elsewhere in the West chewed through bone-dry timber and brush.

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 early Wednesday 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.

As firefighting efforts continued, holiday fireworks were canceled across the region.

Colorado officials called off holiday displays from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, while law enforcement warned of hefty fines for people caught violating personal fireworks bans.

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!”

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. Some of those fires:

• Montana: The 380-square-mile Ash Creek fire in Custer National Forest in the state’s east was growing with help from gusty winds. The fire has burned 16 homes, and firefighters say the blaze has “extreme” growth potential.

The 7.5 square-mile Pony fire near Three Forks threatened a university field station, but firefighters held off the blaze, official said. Still, crews were working to ensure the flames don’t reach the historic mining community of Mammoth.

• Wyoming: Authorities urged more people to evacuate in the area of the 16-square-mile Squirrel Creek fire about 30 miles southwest of Laramie. No figures were released on the number of evacuees late Wednesday. Hundreds evacuated earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, officials said the Oil Creek fire has scorched nearly 91 square miles but was about 40 percent contained Wednesday night.

• Utah: Nine major wildfires were burning across the state, including the Shingle fire, which has burned 8,200 acres and threatened 550 cabins or summer homes and 300 other structures in Dixie National Forest, about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City, officials said.

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