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'Great strides' made on Utah wildfire

Fire has burned 34,951 acres, 10 percent contained.

BY P.J. HELLER | NEOLA, Utah | July 3, 2007

Firefighters made "great strides" Monday in their battle with a deadly wildfire in northeastern Utah that has burned nearly 35,000 acres. The fire was 10 percent contained Monday night.

Firefighters, working in 90-plus degree temperatures, were helped by light winds but extremely low humidity helped fuel the fire. Temperatures were forecast to remain in the 85- to 95-degree range with relative humidity in the single digits.

The fire was attacked both on the ground and from the air with helicopters and air tankers dropping water and retardant on the flames. Seven aircraft and 23 engines were on the scene and four more helicopters were being flown to the area.

"They have made some great strides on the eastern and southern flanks of the fire so that's looking really good," said fire spokesman Diane Williams. "They feel very good about the southern and eastern flank lines. Those are holding well and they don't anticipate any more problems with those areas. They feel good about the things that have been done on the west also."

Large portions of the Ashley National Forest were closed to the public. The closure area stretched for about a 10-mile perimeter to the north, east and west of the fire, she said.

The cause of the blaze, which erupted Friday, remained under investigation. The fire killed three men Friday in a hay field after the blaze quickly changed directions and trapped them. No serious injuries have been reported by firefighters.

"It was a good day out there," Williams said. "Everybody came back safe, so that's a good day."

About 100 members of the Utah National Guard were helping law enforcement personnel. Some 700 firefighters were battling the blaze and more were expected to join the fight Tuesday, Williams said.

The fire forced the evacuation of several hundred people from their homes in some small towns in the area. Residents in the town of Whiterocks who were under a mandatory evacuation order were allowed to return home on Monday. A mandatory evacuation order remained in place for the town of Farm Creek.

Reports said as many as 12 buildings have been destroyed but Williams said no exact number was available. She said as many as 185 buildings were threatened.

"They could possibly be going and doing some assessments as early as tomorrow," she said.

An emergency shelter was set up by the American Red Cross in Neola, about 100 miles east of Salt Lake City. Williams said no one was staying there overnight but the shelter was being kept open.

The fire was burning on private and Forest Service land as well on the Uintah and Ouray Indian reservations. No date was given for when the fire might be contained.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. declared a statewide fire ban Monday that prohibits camp fires, smoking and fireworks on federal, state and unincorporated county lands across the state.

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