Firefighters around the West on Friday were taking advantage of improving weather conditions to make strides against stubborn wildfires — even containment in some locales — that have destroyed homes, forced evacuations and scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of timber and brush.
In Colorado, crews expected to have the state’s most destructive wildfire fully contained by day’s end. Colorado Springs officials lifted evacuation orders for 126 more homes at a 28-square-mile fire that started late last month and has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed two.
Dispatch recordings show the deadly fire appeared to have started near a popular hiking trail west of Colorado Springs, though the cause remained under investigation.
In Wyoming and Montana, a lull in hot weather, damp conditions and shifting winds helped thousands of firefighters at separate blazes.
The largest of Wyoming’s fires, the roughly 150-square-mile Arapaho Fire burning northwest of Wheatland, received a good soaking from a rainstorm Thursday night, state Forester Bill Crapser said. More than 1,000 firefighters have been assigned to the fire, which is 45 percent contained.
Temperatures in the mid-80s, higher humidity and calm winds aided crews at a 95-square-mile fire northwest of Newcastle, a town of about 3,500 near northeast Wyoming’s Black Hills. About 25 families were evacuated from Newcastle’s outskirts.
In southeast Wyoming, aircraft, including four large air tankers, helped increase containment of a 16-square-mile fire to 55 percent. The tankers included two military C-130 cargo planes from a fleet that was reduced to seven when one crashed Monday in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
“We really knocked it for a change, instead of us getting whacked,” said Larry Helmerick, spokesman at the fire. Authorities planned to allow more people to return to dozens of evacuated summer cabins near the Colorado line in Medicine Bow National Forest.
Montana’s largest fire was 70 percent contained as of Friday morning.
In Utah, rain and cooler temperatures helped crews hold lines on blaze that has burned nearly 13 square miles about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City. The fire threatened 550 cabins and summer homes in Dixie National Forest. Up to a quarter-inch of rain fell on Utah’s largest wildfire, a 160-square-mile blaze east of Delta.
The National Weather Service said moderate temperatures were expected in Colorado and Wyoming through the weekend but warned that hot and dry weather was expected for Montana.