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Wyoming fire creeps closer to homes

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JACKSON, Wyo. — With the weather worsening and fatigue setting in, firefighters battled for a seventh straight day Saturday to keep a forest blaze away from upscale mountain homes.

The 1,300 residents of Wilson were told to brace for the worst. The fire crept to within two miles of their community, about five miles west of Jackson.

"If you wanted to develop a worse scenario I don't know that you could," fire spokesman Joe Colwell said. "I think today will be the test."

The wildfire, which officials said was sparked by an abandoned campfire, has grown to some 3,760 acres but hasn't damaged any structures.

"We've got a good handle on this, yes," fire information officer Terry Virgin said. "But I won't feel good until we have a line completely around it."

Flames crept up to the lawn of one house in the Indian Paintbrush subdivision, where homes average about $1 million.

In Crescent H, about five miles southwest of Jackson, the fire came within 200 feet of the $5 million homes, nearly hidden in the bone-dry forest. Nearly all the homes have flammable, wooden-shingle roofs and can be reached only by narrow, winding roads.

The Forest Service marshaled about 1,000 firefighters, 11 helicopters, 10 air tankers and six other planes to battle the blaze.

"We're fighting this thing hot and heavy, about as hot and heavy as you can," fire spokesman Bobby Kitchens said.

A plume of smoke towered over Jackson Hole, a 40-mile-long valley surrounded by three mountain ranges and gateway to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The Tetons, which lie north of the blaze, have been blotted out at times by the haze.

Still, day-to-day activities continued in Jackson, where tourists window-shopped, took stagecoach rides and rented mountain bikes. The county fair was in full-swing and people took advantage of the nice day for a float trip on the Snake River.

Jackson is not threatened by the blaze, fire information officials said, and they've worked hard to get that word out. But concerns persist.

The Chamber of Commerce issued a news release to "strongly encourage" that tourists not alter their plans based on bad information.

"It's a little smoky here, but life goes on," said Mayor Jeanne Jackson.