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Heat wave fuels wildfires in the West

RENO -- Wildfires burned mobile homes, closed highways, and forced evacuations from a popular wilderness park yesterday as firefighters worked through scorching heat to contain blazes throughout the West. No injuries were reported.

Lightning sparked about a dozen fires that had charred about 55 square miles in remote northern Nevada, where temperatures in Elko were expected to reach 98 degrees.

The two biggest fires broke out Friday in Elko County. One had burned 36 square miles, or 23,000 acres, along the Idaho border, said Mike Brown, a spokesman for the US Bureau of Land Management. It was 10 percent contained yesterday, officials said.

The other fire had blackened 7,000 acres about 5 miles southwest of Carlin. It burned two mobile homes and several smaller structures, and shut down a section of Interstate 80.

"Both fires burned actively last night and showed extreme fire behavior," said Sam Hicks, fire management officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry.

The interstate was closed for six hours overnight as the blaze neared the highway, a fire information officer said. Yesterday, the fire was 40 percent contained.

In California, three wildfires ignited by lightning spread quickly yesterday through a wilderness park, officials said.

More than 400 firefighters were battling the blaze, which has consumed 17,000 acres of the 2 million acre Inyo National Forest, forest spokeswoman Nancy Upham said. Firefighters were searching for and evacuating an unknown number of day hikers and overnight backpackers.

A section of Highway 395, which runs along the eastern spine of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was closed, and many smaller roads leading from the highway into the mountains were also closed.

In Southern California, a wildfire burned into a wilderness area of Los Padres National Forest, threatening some campgrounds and showing no sign of slowing down as it moved through tinder-dry chaparral in Santa Barbara County. The fire was heading east and threatened some campgrounds and the historic Manzana schoolhouse, a century-old wooden building, fire spokesman Andy Yamamoto said.

Dozens of firefighters battled a blaze near Rulison, Colo., that had destroyed a house and two other buildings. And a fire in central Utah forced the evacuation of a power plant and threatened several homes, railroad lines, and bridges.

The fires in the West have been fueled by an oppressive heat wave that has been felt throughout the region for days, but that has now eased a bit in places. Still, forecasters predicted little relief in the days ahead for a region where many cities have baked in triple-digit temperatures.

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