Storms Could Hinder Wildfires Battle - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

7/17/06-YUCCA VALLEY, California

Storms Could Hinder Wildfires Battle

A firefighter watches as wildfires progress in the early-morning hours at the Edgemont fire on July 15, 2006, near Redlands, Calif. A firefighter watches as wildfires progress in the early-morning hours at the Edgemont fire on July 15, 2006, near Redlands, Calif.
Vegetation on Pioneertown Road after the Sawtooth complex fire swept through the area, destroying homes and property on July 15, 2006, in the Pioneertown area near Yucca Valley, Calif. Vegetation on Pioneertown Road after the Sawtooth complex fire swept through the area, destroying homes and property on July 15, 2006, in the Pioneertown area near Yucca Valley, Calif.
An air tanker unloads fire retardant on a wildfire off Highway 223, east of Bakersfield, Calif., on July 15, 2006. (AP) An air tanker unloads fire retardant on a wildfire off Highway 223, east of Bakersfield, Calif., on July 15, 2006. (AP)
A crew of inmate firefighters wait along the fire trail as the California wildfires continue to burn throughout the San Bernardino mountains on July 14, 2006, (AP) A crew of inmate firefighters wait along the fire trail as the California wildfires continue to burn throughout the San Bernardino mountains on July 14, 2006, (AP)
A fire-crew member battles a spot fire during a back burn in Big Morongo Canyon as the Sawtooth complex fire approaches, near Morongo Valley, Calif., on July 13, 2006. (AP) A fire-crew member battles a spot fire during a back burn in Big Morongo Canyon as the Sawtooth complex fire approaches, near Morongo Valley, Calif., on July 13, 2006. (AP)

 Fire crews made progress Monday against wildfires that had destroyed 58 homes and blackened 130 square miles, but they faced a threat of thunderstorms with lightning and enough rain to either douse flames or cause flooding in burned out canyons.

"We'll get substantial rain. Whether it will be helpful or harmful will be determined by how you look at it," said Robert Balfour, a National Weather Service senior forecaster assigned to the fires.

There was a 40 percent chance of rain in the area on Monday, and a 60 percent chance of heavy rain, with the possibility of flash flooding later in the week, Balfour said.

One part of the group of fires had covered about 97 square miles and was 60 percent contained, fire officials said. An adjacent complex of fires had grown to 34.5 square miles Monday and was 26 percent contained, authorities said at an early briefing.

Firefighters have had a hard time reaching remote, rugged pockets of both groups of fires, which merged on Friday, and needed helicopters to drop in suppression teams.

Once on the ground, firefighters faced rocky terrain and sheer cliffs.

"It's steeper than a cow's face," said Tony Duprey, an air tactical group supervisor who has flown helicopter reconnaissance.

Since being ignited by lightning a week ago, the larger fire, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, has destroyed 58 houses and mobile homes, dozens of outbuildings and scores of vehicles. Fire officials estimated damage at more than $8.4 million and firefighting costs at $10.3 million.

At least 11 people, including firefighters, have been injured. On Saturday, a search team found the body of a man who had been missing since the fire burned through historic Pioneertown on Tuesday. The cause of death remained under investigation but sheriff's officials said it appeared to be fire-related.

Fires were raging in several other states as well.

On the edge of Valentine, Neb., about 300 miles northwest of Omaha near the South Dakota state line, a large canyon fire destroyed about 10 homes and 200 people and a hospital were told to evacuate as a precaution, officials said.

Firefighters spent the night protecting the town of 2,600 people and trying to keep the blaze confined.

"We've got it knocked down, but it's not out," said Valentine Fire Chief Terry Engles.

Crews were keeping watch on the weather Monday morning to see if wind would pick up. The cause of the fire was not yet known, Engles said.

Firefighters in southern and eastern Montana were battling five major fires that charred about 294 square miles, mostly east of Billings.

In Wyoming, a wind shift helped firefighters keep a group of blazes from advancing toward Devils Tower National Monument. The four fires about five miles southwest of Devils Tower had burned about 23 square miles of brush and ponderosa pine. About 10 percent of the fires were contained. The lightning-caused fires had damaged two homes and threatened 35 others.

Minnesota authorities let two wildfires burn in the northeastern part of the state, where Sunday was the second consecutive day of "red flag warnings" for fire danger. The more serious of the two was expected to burn eastward toward a part of a "blowdown area" where a 1999 wind storm knocked down millions of trees that remain a major fire hazard. No rain was expected there for the next week.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly