Improved weather aids fire crews in Ariz., Nev. and Calif.

Wednesday, April 30th 2008, 2:10 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) -- Lighter wind and higher humidity during the night helped crews make progress Wednesday against a wildfire feeding on ponderosa pine forest near Grand Canyon National Park.

However, the break in the weather in northern Arizona was expected to be brief.

"They're expecting winds to be 45 miles an hour this afternoon, and yesterday they were also high," said Kaibab National Forest spokeswoman Susan Brown. "They're just hoping all the work they did over the evening helps. It's laid down pretty nicely."

As of Wednesday morning, there was zero percent containment, but that was expected to change when crews could assess the work they did during the night.

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

The Arizona fire had covered an estimated 3.1 square miles, or 2,000 acres, and had gotten to within a mile of the southern boundary of the national park.

It was about 10 miles southeast of Grand Canyon Village but was moving away from the popular tourist center, Brown said. There was no immediate threat to visitor facilities in the park or the community of Tusayan, just south of the park. Smoke was visibility from the popular South Rim of the canyon.

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 1,200 acres, about 1.8 square miles, and was 50 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. Students were evacuated from Pleasant Valley Elementary School on Tuesday.

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.

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