- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Crews battling wildfires that had destroyed 58 homes and blackened more than 110 square miles faced a threat of thunderstorms yesterday that could produce lightning capable of starting new blazes — or heavy rain that would flood the newly denuded land.

“We’re definitely concerned,” said Karen Guillemin, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry.

The National Weather Service said there was about a 30 percent chance of storms in the region, roughly 100 miles east of Los Angeles. Nearly 4,000 firefighters were struggling to surround the combined fires before they could endanger mountain resort towns where thousands live.

The body of a man who had been missing since one of the fires rushed through historic Pioneertown last week was found Saturday, said Cindy Beavers of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The cause of death remained under investigation, but the body of Gerald Guthrie, 57, was found in a charred area less than a half mile from his home, which escaped the flames that destroyed desert scrub and Joshua trees. A family member last heard from Mr. Guthrie when he called and said that the fire was close and that he was preparing to evacuate, authorities said.

Before yesterday’s threat of unsettled weather, higher humidity and slightly lower temperatures helped crews make some progress on the fires, which covered about 75,000 acres.

One — a blaze of 62,000 acres or about 97 square miles — was 60 percent contained yesterday, a week after it was started by lightning.

A mandatory evacuation remained in effect for one small canyon but had been lifted in several other areas. That blaze had destroyed 58 desert houses and many outbuildings. Fire officials estimated damage at more than $8.4 million and firefighting costs at $10.3 million.

An adjacent group of fires had grown to more than 15,000 acres since merging with the larger fire and was 10 percent contained, officials said. There were no evacuations.

The fires had burned into the San Bernardino National Forest but were not considered immediate threats to communities at higher elevations in the Big Bear Lake region.

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