Rain and cooler temperatures slow wildfire in western America

Overnight rain and cooler temperatures slowed a wildfire that had raced out of a canyon, destroyed at least 30 houses and killed a homeowner who went back to save his belongings.

The change in weather gave firefighters a chance to shore up their fire lines, though conditions could shift again for the worse, state wildland fire coordinator Joe Lowe told crews at a morning briefing held in light rain.

"This fire is not over yet," he cautioned. "This fire could come back to life again."

The blaze was started by lightning on Saturday, and by Monday it had covered an estimated 11 square miles (28 1/2 square kilometers) just southwest of Hot Springs, on the southern side of the Black Hills. It was 20 percent contained and crews expected to have it fully contained by Thursday.

Other fires blackened the landscape in California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Montana and Oregon, many of them also started by lightning and fueled by the dry conditions, made worse by a heat wave that sizzled across the West last week.

In addition to the death in South Dakota, smoke from a major Utah fire was blamed for two deaths in a weekend motorcycle accident, and another blaze still active in Utah killed three people last week.

Crews in California's eastern Sierra Nevada gained ground against a fire that had charred at least 37,000 acres (14,974 hectares), or 58 square miles (150 square kilometers), in the Inyo National Forest.

That fire was 55 percent contained Monday after cooler temperatures and lighter wind allowed firefighters to make their first real progress, forestry officials said.

The flames skirted the popular John Muir Wilderness and destroyed at least one home outside Independence.

The biggest wildfire in Utah history had charged across more than 300,000 acres or 468 square miles (1,212 square kilometers) of extremely dry sagebrush, cheat grass and pinion juniper in the central part of the state.

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