Homeowners Return to Ariz.'s Mount Lemmon

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- A month after a wildfire drove them off their vacation hamlet on Mount Lemmon, people who lost homes to the blaze _ and the lucky ones who didn't - were finally allowed to return.

Authorities were letting property owners return Thursday to view the aftermath of the 84,750-acre fire, started June 17 by humans.

Residents whose homes were spared will be free to stay as long as they want. No decision had been made on when the general public will be allowed up the mountain.

The fire broke out on the mountain overlooking Tucson, forcing property owners to flee the vacation hamlet of Summerhaven and surrounding subdivisions. Two days later, wind-fed flames devoured a pine forest ravaged by years of drought and a tree-killing beetle infestation and burst into the community.

A total of 322 homes and cabins, seven businesses and four other buildings were lost during the initial surge on June 19 and another run earlier this month.

The fire also forced the brief evacuation this month of dozens of homes in an exclusive enclave in Ventana Canyon in the foothills of the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. It was contained Tuesday.

In Washington, seven upscale homes were destroyed by a wildfire Wednesday in Okanogan. The 200-acre fire was contained by evening.

Sheriff Frank Rogers said the fire was ``human-caused'' but gave no details, saying the investigation was continuing. No injuries were reported, but damage to the upscale neighborhood could reach into the millions, he said.

Volunteer firefighter Kyle Nelson said the flames roared up a tinder-dry hillside behind the high school in the north-central Washington town of about 2,000 residents.

``When the fire hit the juniper bushes, it blew up and came over the top of us. It was a huge wall of fire,'' Nelson said. ``It reached over our heads and started the roof of the house on fire.''

Within minutes, all seven homes were destroyed.

``I've never seen anything burn that fast,'' said witness Brenda Crowell.

Elsewhere in the West:

  • In Colorado, dry conditions helped several lightning-caused fires spread quickly Wednesday in the nation's largest archaeological preserve, but no ruins appeared threatened. Two fires inside Mesa Verde National Park and one just outside the park were contained Wednesday. Two other fires have merged on the park boundary.

    About 2,100 acres had burned by late Wednesday, a day after the fires began.

  • In Southern California, a wildfire burned across 5,000 acres of steep, hilly brush along the San Diego-Riverside county line, prompting the evacuation of a Boy Scout camp. No structures were damaged and no injuries were reported. About 600 campers were escorted out as a precaution.

  • A wildfire in Montana forced the evacuation of about 150 rural homes and cabins near the town of Cascade on Wednesday. Fire managers said the blaze grew rapidly to 150 acres during the morning.