ST. GEORGE, Utah – Firefighters battled in hot, dry and windy weather Sunday to contain a nearly 60,000-acre wildfire that prompted evacuations, closed a major highway for hours and covered much of southwest Utah with a dark, smoky haze.
Officials expected to allow Gunlock residents to return home by Sunday evening with the understanding that if the fire shifted, they would get a one-hour notice to evacuate again. The tiny reservation community of Shivwits, home of the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, was also warned of possible evacuations.
Temperatures in the 90s and high wind pushed the fire through grass and brush made thick by winter rainfall.
“It limits our capabilities and makes it hard to get a handle on it,” said Brian Cardoza, 32, of the Boise-based Idaho City Hot Shots team, who was starting his fifth day on the fire.
Elsewhere, firefighters confronted blazes in California, Arizona and Nevada that have consumed more than 250,000 acres.
Crews were able to contain about 15 percent of the largest Utah fire Saturday, and officials predicted full containment by late Thursday.
Residents of Gunlock, about 260 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, were told to leave Saturday after the fire edged to within four miles of town.
Flames up to 10 feet high were visible Saturday from Interstate 15 just north of St. George before a lightning-caused fire jumped the road and closed it overnight.
Officials said the fire, which was burning along the west side of the highway, grew from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres in less than 12 hours. By Sunday evening, Interstate 15 was closed again in both directions.
“This is just the beginning of a very, very long season,” Utah Fire Management Coordinator Dave Dalrymple said.
In southern California, firefighters near Kelso made progress against a wildfire that had charred 67,000 acres in the rugged Mojave National Preserve.
A brush and grass fire that had charred 86,000 acres in Arizona by Sunday was about 20 percent contained.
Firefighters in Nevada reported progress Sunday containing a 31,600-acre wildfire in the mountains southwest of Las Vegas while more than a dozen other blazes burned in the southern part of the state.
In the Northeast and Midwest, the first official weekend of summer brought a scorching heat wave, with temperatures well into the 90s.
Boston reached a high of 95 degrees Saturday – the hottest since August 18, 2002 – and cracked the 90-degree mark again on Sunday.
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