- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A fast-growing blaze in southwestern South Dakota killed one person and destroyed 20 homes yesterday, while hundreds of people evacuated homes in the path of a fire in Washington state.

In Nevada, about 1,500 evacuees were allowed home hours after a 39-square-mile wildfire burned into the northern town of Winnemucca, fire officials said yesterday.

Residents of about 50 homes had fled a wildfire near Hot Springs, S.D., that also injured two firefighters, state and federal officials said. An area of roughly 8 square miles has burned since the fire started Saturday.

The person killed was identified only as a civilian, either a homeowner or visitor to the tourist area on the edge of the scenic Black Hills.

“This is obviously someone who was not part of the firefighting effort,” said Gary Chancey, spokesman for Northern Great Plains Joint Information Center in Rapid City. Lightning was suspected as the cause, because an electrical storm had started smaller fires in the Black Hills and surrounding grasslands this weekend, Mr. Chancey said.

The Utah Highway Patrol yesterday reopened a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 15 and a 25-mile segment of Interstate 70 that were closed when a 250-square-mile fire jumped the highways and filled the air with dense smoke Saturday. Poor visibility was blamed for several accidents, including a motorcycle crash that killed two persons.

The fire in central Utah had swept across parts of two counties, charring an estimated 160,000 acres, or 250 square miles, fire information officer LaCee Bartholomew said. Other Western fires blackened the landscape in California, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho and Oregon.

High wind near Wenatchee, Wash., overnight spread a brush fire that threatened homes. By yesterday morning, 250 to 270 homes had been evacuated, and at least three outbuildings were destroyed.

The wind-whipped blaze near Winnemucca, Nev., had damaged an unknown number of homes, authorities said. It also shut down Interstate 80, delayed trains and killed livestock. No injuries were reported.

“It was pretty hairy for quite awhile, and people thought they would go back to nothing,” Humboldt County Undersheriff Curtiss Kull said yesterday. “It was a huge wall of flame coming at the homes. It’s amazing that no homes were lost.”

The largest Nevada fires — one about 25 miles west of Winnemucca and the other near Jackpot along the Idaho line — had each charred 78 square miles, or 50,000 acres, of open rangeland, officials said. Yesterday, the blaze near Jackpot was 15 percent contained, and the one near Winnemucca was 30 percent contained.

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