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Wildfires Blaze Across West

July 5, 1999

EUREKA, Utah (AP) _ Residents of the neighboring towns of Eureka and Mammoth were allowed back into their homes after a Fourth of July filled with fire, not fireworks.

High winds spread a wildfire over roughly 61,400 acres near the two towns, about 55 miles south of Salt Lake City, twice driving residents from their homes.

By Sunday night crews had the fire 70 percent contained and hoped changing winds forecast for today would help fire fighters make further headway.

``No homes were burned,″ Linda Jackson, spokeswoman for the Richfield Interagency Fire Center said Sunday. ``Yesterday all the resources were deployed to protect those communities, but by today they were able to move some of the resources to other areas.″

Still, the blaze made for a tense weekend for Mammoth residents.

``We’re scared to death,″ said Phyllis Corbett on Saturday. ``Everything we have is all gone. We got everything loaded, we’re taking everything.″

Corbett freed her pigeons before leaving, knowing the birds would return if their coop didn’t burn.

``I’m starting to go numb,″ said Mammoth resident Cheryl Wahlberg. ``I cry and then I’m OK ... It’s hard. I’m absolutely terrified of fire, so I don’t want to be in there, but I don’t want to leave either.″

About 427 fire fighters were battling the blaze Sunday evening, including several 20-person crews, four helicopters, 35 engines, five bulldozers and two water trucks.

The fire began in a patch of grass along some railroad tracks. It was fanned by 50 mph wind gusts and was spread when a tanker truck containing 11,000 gallons of diesel fuel exploded.

Crews evacuated the entire town of Mammoth on Friday. The town’s 60 residents were allowed to return home Saturday before the fire shifted toward the town again forcing another evacuation.

The National Weather Service senior forecaster Peter Wilensky predicted the firefighters would get some relief today. Winds were expected to shift, blowing the flames back over the charred ground, meaning less fuel for the fire.

State Highways 6 and 36, which the fire had closed were reopened Sunday. Little Sahara Recreation Area, a popular recreation area, was also opened, although people were being discouraged from visiting the area.

Separate fires in Utah and Colorado also connected Sunday and were burning 8,000 acres of forest, grass and sage. People were warned to stay away from a popular rafting area on the Colorado River called Ruby Canyon.

Meanwhile, in northern California, just as firefighters gained the upper hand after a two-day battle against a 2,000-acre wildfire, a second blaze goaded by dry winds briefly forced the evacuations of 30 homes.

A forest fire 7 miles west of downtown Redding had charred only 125 acres, but about a dozen people camped out at a nearby school overnight. The fire was contained this morning.

No one was hurt and no structures were damaged in the fire, said Elmer Benson, spokesman with the California Department of Forestry.

``We just hit it with everything we had,″ he said.

Near Lewiston, a federal brush-thinning fire that roared out of control Friday and damaged two dozen homes was 75 percent contained. It had forced 500 people to flee and scorched 2,000 acres.

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