Firefighters kept an explosive wildfire from destroying more homes in Nevada's capital Friday, but warned the flames were still so intense they were burning through retardant dropped by tankers.
The 7,600-acre fire has torched at least 14 homes as drought conditions, dense smoke, whipping winds and intense flames have challenged firefighters in the hilly terrain.
In California, meanwhile, a wind-driven wildfire at the edge of the Angeles National Forest grew to more than 14,000 acres Friday, forcing hundreds to flee mountain communities. Smoke drifted 60 miles south into the Los Angeles basin.
The fire near Carson City was 50 percent contained Friday, but authorities warned that gusty winds possible over the weekend could breathe new life into the blaze.
"I think we'd describe it as the meanest, ugliest and kind of an uncooperative fire," Gov. Kenny Guinn said.
Five people have been injured and hundreds of homes have been saved, though they remain threatened. The low number of injuries and structure losses was "a miracle," Acting Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said.
Dense smoke, erratic winds, low humidity and drought-stricken trees and brush have challenged the 1,500 firefighters who were working in steep terrain. But officials also said that if the weather cooperates, the fire could be fully contained by early next week.
"This is far and away the worst fire I've ever seen in 24 years of firefighting," Giomi told hundreds of people, many of them evacuated from their homes, during a community center meeting. All were allowed to return to their homes Friday.
The toll of homes claimed by the wildfire could be as high as 16, Giomi said. One business was destroyed, along with 25 outbuildings since the blaze broke out before dawn Wednesday on the western edge of Carson City. Dozens of cars, trucks, RVs and other vehicles also burned.
Investigators believe the fire may have been started by teenagers who were in a canyon Tuesday. Several juveniles have been interviewed, Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said.
The blaze destroyed exclusive homes in the canyon and at one point burned to within half a mile of - but didn't threaten - the governor's mansion.
Hugh Fenwick, a commercial airline pilot who lost his $800,000 home, said the fire hit his neighborhood so quickly that he only had enough time to grab a file cabinet, a load of clothing and some family heirlooms.
"The ironic thing was that when the fire hit I was building a sprinkler system," said Fenwick, 37, who had constructed the mountainside home in 2001 and moved in only two years ago.
The wildfire in California's Angeles National Forest has destroyed three homes, five outbuildings and a motorhome since it began Monday, said Anthony Polanco, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The fire was about 36 percent contained but spreading as winds gusted up to 25 mph at edge of the Mojave Desert.
It was one of dozens of small and large wildfires in California. Karen Terrill of the California Department of Forestry said her department had found 200 fires in the last 48 hours.
"It's as dry as it's ever been for this time of year," Terrill said. "The worst is ahead of us."
In Alaska, this year's fire season became the state's third-worst on record Friday, with officials estimating that more than 3.2 million acres have burned.
On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/
Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center: http://www.sierrafront.net/