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Chronic dryness hinders fight against West’s fires

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WINTERS, Calif. (AP) — Crews fought through a rugged landscape, triple-digit heat, gusty winds, and the stark and chronic dryness of California’s long drought to make hard-earned progress against a wildfire burning for its fourth day.

Such dry conditions have hurt the fight against other wildfires in Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah and Washington state.

In Northern California, crews were able to increase containment of the Monticello Fire to 45 percent from 35 percent in the steep mountains near Lake Berryessa in Yolo County.

More than 1,600 firefighters battling the blaze Monday gained on its front end as temperatures soared past 100 degrees, said state fire spokesman Chris Christopherson. The heat was expected to reach the 90s on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have an aggressive attack not only from the ground but the air as well to maintain our control lines,” said Christopherson.

All road closures were canceled Monday, a day after evacuation orders for about 40 homes were called off.

The fire has burned about 10 square miles since it began Friday. It has been stoked by gusty winds and fueled by thick, brittle brush that has not burned for at least two decades and is extremely dry because of the drought.

Jodi Westropp, 43, told the San Francisco Chronicle that she was thankful her neighborhood was spared but understood the danger might not be over.

“It’s a risk here,” she said. “It’s just so dry.”

Lake Berryessa, about 75 miles northeast of San Francisco, is a popular recreation spot that attracts boaters and campers during the Fourth of July weekend.

Firefighters spent much of last week taking on another blaze on the northwest side of the lake that by Monday was 95 percent contained after burning nearly 7 square miles and destroying two homes.

Elsewhere in the West, officials reported gains in containing several wildfires that covered a combined 33 square miles in remote parts of eastern Nevada and southwestern Utah.

No homes or other structures were threatened. In eastern Nevada, two of more than 470 firefighters at the 1,200-acre Cottonwood Fire were treated for dehydration.

Also in eastern Nevada, the 14-square-mile Lages Fire was about 75 percent contained, with full containment expected Tuesday, said federal Bureau of Land Management spokesman Chris Hanefeld.

In northeast Utah, a wildfire that has burned 5 square miles, a home and two cabins was 25 percent contained. The Greek Peak Fire has burned 1.2 square miles in southwestern Utah and was about 80 percent contained.

Here in New Mexico, a lightning-sparked, 5 1/2-square-mile fire in the northern part of the state was 95 percent contained.

In Idaho, all evacuations were lifted Monday as more crews were dispatched to the Colorado Gulch Fire in Blaine County as flames spread. The fire has blackened a square mile since it started Sunday, and officials hope to have it contained by Tuesday.

In central Washington, authorities advised residents in about 70 homes near Mansfield to prepare to evacuate after a fire that began Sunday burned over half a square mile.

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