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Lightning gets blame for 40 fires in Utah

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Utah has a bad case of the summertime blues, with raging wildfires and soaring temperatures.

So many small fires were blazing in extreme southwestern Utah that retardant aircraft were diverted from the huge blaze at the Nebo Loop in order to combat those fires.

"What we have right now are 40 fires that were started between the 2nd and the 4th, and there are still more being reported as we speak," Bette Arial, spokeswoman for Color Country South Zone Interagency Fire Center, St. George, said on Thursday.

"All of them are lightning-caused."

One-tree fires were being doused by retardant-dropping aircraft. But two of the fires were more than 100 acres each: on Low Mountain west of St. George and on the Arizona Strip.

"We have all of our resources out" battling the blazes, including 100 firefighters, she said.

Lightning may be the culprit for the Stockton fire, which started about three miles south of Tooele Wednesday evening. The burn is estimated at 600 to 800 acres.

"It's in some pretty rough terrain, steep hills and deep brush," said Teresa Rigby, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. After the fire started, it "just took off, mostly because of the weather that was over the area at the time."

A trailer used periodically by its owners is about two-thirds of a mile from the fire. "It also burned underneath power lines" on U-36, she said.

"As of yesterday we had about five engines and a water tender" battling the flames, she said. On Thursday, a fire crew arrived from Salt Lake County.

Meanwhile, scorching heat contributed to the extreme fire danger. But some relief may arrive soon in the form of lower temperatures and rain.

Dave Sanders, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service office on North Temple, said many Utah cities were 100 degrees or hotter on Wednesday, with several new records. Areas that hit the century mark but didn't set records included Bluff, 105; Canyonlands National Park, 105; Hanksville, 109; Kanab, 100; Layton, 102; Manti, 103; Milford, 100; Nephi, 103; Price, 100; St. George, 109; Utah Test and Training Range, 103; Wendover, 102; and Zion National Park, 103.

Sanders noted that most reporting locations reached at least 100 degrees.

"There is relief beginning," he said. Thursday's high for Salt Lake City is expected to reach "only" 97 to 101, with a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms. Storm activity is even more likely on Friday.

Northern Utah should cool down until Sunday, when the high could reach its normal level for the date, about 90 degrees, Sanders said. But temperatures may climb again next week.

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com