UPDATE 3-Firefighters struggle with major blazes in Western U.S. states
(Updates number of homes destroyed, adds details)
By Jennifer Dobner and Keith Coffman
SALT LAKE CITY/DENVER, June 23 (Reuters) - Firefighters in Western U.S. states struggled to contain out-of-control wind-stoked wildfires on Saturday as summer temperatures mounted, and a fresh blaze consumed more homes in Colorado even as Utah allowed 2,500 evacuees back for the night.
Colorado firefighters remained unable to halt the spread of the H igh Park Fire, a growing 81,190-acre (32,856-hectare) blaze in steep canyons west of Fort Collins. The fire jumped containment lines on Friday and roared through a subdivision, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
"The fire continues to spread west into steep, inaccessible areas with beetle-killed timber on the west and northwest portions of the fire," a statement from the federal fire incident command center said.
As firefighters focused on that monster blaze, a fire that erupted 18 miles (29 km) away in a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park ri pped through 21 vacation dwellings and full-time residences in Estes Park, the area's fire chief said.
Reid Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said that resources had to be diverted from the High Park fire to battle the destructive 20-acre (8 hectare) blaze. Bu t officials said the small fire was nearly under control.
The losses in Estes Park were on top of 200 other homes destroyed by the High Park fire in the two weeks since the lightning-sparked blaze was first spotted in Colorado, where temperatures hit the triple digits in many areas on Saturday.
In Denver, a dense canopy of gray smoke could be seen drifting east from the fire zone over Colorado's high plains, at times blocking the view of the mountains, and the smell of burning timber wafted through the city.
The High Park fire is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother who perished in her mountain cabin. It is already the state's most destructive and the second-largest on record in Colorado.
As of Friday, there were 15 large, uncontained wildfires being fought across the country, most in six Western states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona - the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported.
EVACUATION ORDERS LIFTED
Fanned by winds, Utah's so-called Dump Fire about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City grew to 6,023 acres on Saturday from 4,000 late Friday, and was only about 30 percent contained, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Cami Lee said.
The fire was burning primarily south and west of Saratoga Springs, where wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph) were expected to confound firefighting efforts, Lee said.
But Utah officials lifted evacuation orders on Saturday evening that had kept residents out of homes in Saratoga Springs and nearby Eagle Mountain, although residents were urged to stay on alert.
"We hope you're there for the night, but you need to be prepared," Eagle Mountain Mayor Heather Jackson said. "The winds are still blowing, the fire can still flare back up."
Officials said target shooters triggered the blaze near a city landfill on Thursday. It is the 20th fire in Utah started by target shooting this year, they said.
As fire managers predicted, winds with gusts of more than 20 miles per hour pushed the flames westward toward homes on Saturday afternoon, Curry said. But containment lines held, persuading officials that residents could safely return.
On Saturday, officials revised down substantially the number of people evacuated from the two communities. Some 588 homes were evacuated in the towns on Friday, affecting up to 2,500 residents, according to Jason Curry of Utah's office of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
On Friday, officials had said up to 8,000 were evacuated. The change followed a more accurate count, Curry said.
Some 450 firefighters were on the ground Saturday in Utah, with support from two air tankers and several helicopters. One firefighter had suffered minor burns, but no other injuries had been reported.
Although federal authorities say the fire season got off to an early start this summer in parts of the Northern Rockies, the acreage burned nationwide is about on a par with the 10-year average for this time of year, according to fire agency records.
The biggest by far was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico, that state's largest on record, which has charred almost 300,000 acres. That blaze is nearly 90 percent contained. (Additional reporting by Keith Coffman; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)
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