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Tooele fire potentially explosive

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A new wildfire in Tooele County roared three-quarters of a mile from a cache of explosives on Sunday, prompting officials to order a virtual Niagara of retardant drops.

The site, where officials say a private mining concern stores dynamite in buildings and semitrailer truck bodies, is about four to five miles from I-80. To prevent a potentially devastating explosion, a helicopter dumped so many buckets of tinted retardant that one federal official joked that the mountain was pink.

Salt Lake City's atmosphere was hazy with smoke from the regional fires on Monday.

Lightning started the North Stansbury blaze, estimated at 250 acres by Monday. It was burning in the north end of the Stansbury Mountains, 10 miles north of Grantsville.

Both the eastern and western sides of the ridge line burned over the weekend, said Alice Stephenson, fire information officer in the Bureau of Land Management's Salt Lake field office. On Sunday, officials feared the fire could trigger a dangerous explosion.

"Down at the bottom of the hill on the east side were some dynamite bunkers," Stephenson said. "The fire was creeping down the mountain towards those bunkers."

Besides the enclosed storage areas, barrels are stored in the open air. "We don't know what was in the barrels. We were definitely keeping an eye on it," Stephenson said.

Fire agencies were short-handed, so instead of using many hand crews, "we ended up getting air attack, some air retardant drops," she said.

The retardants and a crew of smoke jumpers ensured that the fire was confined to higher areas, away from the explosives, she said. A 20-person hand crew was expected to join the battle on Monday.

Crews that would have been available in a normal fire year were battling huge fires throughout the West. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise reported on Monday that 87 wildfires of 1,000 acres or more were burning in eight Western states plus Texas and Florida.

"That equals 1,392,428 acres," said E. Lynn Burkett of the national center. She told the Deseret News that four of the fires were new but that eight large fires were contained.

"We have higher humidity, more moderate winds and cooler temperatures," she said. These factors work to the advantage of firefighters.

In Montana, the hardest-hit state, 30 large fires are burning on 629,885 acres. Natural barriers "like rivers, water resources, things like that" were helping firefighters, she said.

In Utah, lightning started many new fires over the weekend. "Within about one or two days we had 60 to 100 new fires, most of them (cause by) lightning from the storms that came through," Stephenson said.

"Most of them were small." Rain extinguished many, and crews were able to contain others.

Officials say a 250-acre fire on the Cedar Mountains north of Dugway Proving Ground was contained Saturday night.

Contributing: Laura Hancock

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com