Firefighters near Grand Canyon brace for hot, windy weather

Wednesday, April 30th 2008, 7:05 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) -- A wildfire on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park burned lazily Wednesday afternoon, but fire crews feared it was only biding its time, with stronger winds and hotter weather predicted for later in the day.

A wind advisory was in effect until 7 p.m. for the area, where gusts could hit 40 mph. The fire, which is not at all contained, has burned an estimated 3.1 square miles of ponderosa pine and has come within a mile of the park's southern boundary.

Fire crews have been able to clear some vegetation ahead of the blaze but were bracing for the most intense part of the day, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jacqueline Denk.

"It's going to be critical that we hold the lines we established," Denk said.

The blaze was about 10 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon Village but was moving away from the popular tourist site. No homes are threatened.

It was spotted Tuesday afternoon and grew rapidly. Authorities believe it was caused by humans and were investigating.

Firefighters also had made progress against wildfires near Reno, Nev., and in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

Diminished wind and temperatures near freezing during the night helped firefighters working on a brush and grass blaze south of Reno. On Tuesday, the fire had closed a highway and led to evacuation of an elementary school.

"With lower temperatures the fire cooled down really well," Steve Frady, spokesman for the Reno Fire Department, said early Wednesday.

The fire was estimated at 962 acres, about 1.5 square miles, and was 75 percent contained, Frady said. It was moving away from homes after burning right around four hillside houses Tuesday when the flames were fanned by wind gusting to 70 mph.

Busy U.S. 395, the main thoroughfare between Reno and Carson City, was briefly closed during Tuesday's evening rush hour, but by daybreak Wednesday no flames or smoke were visible from the highway.

In Southern California, which also had higher humidity and lower temperatures, the wildfire that threatened hundreds of homes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains was reduced to mostly embers and was nearly contained, fire officials said Wednesday. Humidity was lower and Wednesday's highs were forecast only in the 60s, down from 90s earlier in the week.

"It is looking real good," said Cliff Johnson, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. He estimated containment at 88 percent, with the blaze expected to be fully surrounded by Friday.

The last evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday for the 1,000 people forced from homes in Sierra Madre, a small city about 15 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Another 700-acre blaze burned uncontained in the San Jacinto Wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest. The blaze was on the remote Apache Peak near Pacific Crest Trail, about six miles east of the Riverside County community of Mountain Center, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Only hand crews were fighting the fire, which erupted Tuesday 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)