Hot, dry West means firing guns can start blazes

June 21, 2012 - 11:15 PM
Western Wildfires

In this photo taken on Monday, June 18, 2012, and made available Wednesday by the Colorado National Guard, a helicopter drops a load of water above the High Park wildfire, about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo. The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. (AP Photo/Colorado National Guard , Jess Geffre)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nineteen wildfires in Utah have been sparked this year by target shooting as dry and windy conditions make such ignitions more likely, authorities said.

Authorities counted 24 wildfires sparked by guns last year, and 20 the year before. Three months remain in the dry season.

The state cannot do much to prevent more of these fires this year. Cities can restrict certain types of ammunition and targets for fire safety, but gun laws limit such regulations at the state level, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

In other parts of the West, authorities in Colorado were investigating whether recreational shooting is to blame for starting a 1,145-acre wildfire near Lake George over the weekend.

Hot, windy weather Thursday made the region ripe for new fires spreading in Utah as well as parts of western Colorado, Nevada and Oregon. In another sign of how dry the West is, a highway mower is suspected of sparking a 6-acre wildfire along the Arkansas River in southern Colorado.

The fire, which started Wednesday, temporarily closed a stretch of the river to rafting in a canyon where the artist Christo is seeking permission to suspend huge fabric panels.

Opponents cited the fire as another reason to reject the work, saying a 15-ton drilling rig and other heavy equipment needed for the project would make it difficult for residents to evacuate in an emergency.

Elsewhere:

— In Colorado, a second wave of evacuees from a 68,200-acre fire were returning home. Some have been warned to stay ready to leave again as firefighters attempt to encircle the blaze west of Fort Collins.

— In California, residents were allowed to return to homes and cabins near a 385-acre fire near Sequoia National Park, and firefighters fully contained the blaze Thursday. A body was found at the scene of a small brushfire in the San Fernando Valley and authorities were trying to determine whether it was dumped there.

— In Wyoming, firefighters contained about 5 percent of a wildfire that has scorched more than 4 square miles in a remote and mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

— In New Mexico, a fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses was 60 percent contained. The fire — the largest in state history — has blackened 463 square miles in the Gila Wilderness and is 80 percent contained. Meanwhile, a 360-acre fire along the Rio Grande on the northern edge of Albuquerque was 50 percent contained. Nearby residents were on alert, but no one has been evacuated.

— In Arizona, firefighters were maintaining lines around a wildfire that threatened transmission lines owned by two of the state's largest utilities. That fire near Young had grown to 11,011 acres, up from 8,100 acres on Wednesday. A separate fire in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson was 60 percent contained after charring about 7,500 acres.

— In Hawaii, the largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 5,200 acres on the Big Island. Another fire that has been burning since Monday threatened a hospital and forced the closure of its emergency room.