By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Crews battled to contain a massive New Mexico wildfire on Friday that torched a dozen homes, the largest of several blazes that have consumed more than 200 square miles (520 square km) of rugged land in half-a-dozen U.S. states in recent days.
Wildfires in sparsely-populated stretches of Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have forced the evacuation of several small towns and torched miles of forest, brush and grass since mid-month.
The fires have taken hold in tinder-dry late-spring conditions in mostly remote tracts of the United States, and have been fanned by gusting winds.
Crews fought a huge blaze in the Gila National Forest near the New Mexico-Arizona border, which had charred nearly 130 square miles (337 square kilometres) by early Friday, with none of it contained, said Public Information Officer Iris Estes.
Estes said firefighters were able to build fire lines toward the north of the blaze - which sent billowing columns of gray-brown smoke high into the air - and expected wind gusts of nearly 30 miles per hour to move the flames in that direction by midday.
Efforts overnight preserved the more than 45 remaining vacation homes in the area. A total of twelve homes and 13 outlying buildings have been destroyed so far, Estes said.
"The fire is still burning in the subdivision, but they did a good job of getting in there and getting some structure protection in there," Estes said.
Estes said the fire "spread out and moved in all directions" as it burned late Thursday, which allowed firefighters to get closer to the blaze and build fire lines with bulldozers.
More than 500 people are fighting the blaze. Voluntary evacuations were in effect for the nearby town of Mogollon.
In neighboring Arizona, nearly 1,000 firefighters using aircraft and hand tools made strides toward containing the Grand Canyon state's largest and most dangerous blaze, the so-called Gladiator Fire.
That fire, which has torched more than 25 square miles (65 square km) of ponderosa pine and brush about 40 miles north of Phoenix, reached 35-percent containment on Friday. The progress allowed the local sheriff's office to start letting some residents return to three small communities for the first time in 13 days.
LIGHTNING SPARKS MICHIGAN, UTAH BLAZES
Across the country in Michigan, two wildfires sparked by lightning strikes burned in forests and marshes of the sparsely populated Northern Peninsula, which is stuck in an extended dry spell, authorities said.
The larger of the two, the Duck Lake Fire has burned about 17,000 acres to the Lake Superior coastline. The blaze has consumed dozens of structures, including vacation homes, and forced some evacuations of campers, but caused no injuries, said Ed Golder of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
There was no containment, as gusty winds had shifted to westerly breezes, threatening the Pike Lake area where there is a resort.
Another fire has blackened 3,000 acres of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, but has threatened no structures and is 65 percent contained, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyland said at the refuge. Planes and helicopters were dumping water on the fire, and ground crews had dug a fire line.
The Seney reserve covers nearly 100,000 acres, and the fire has burned forest and wetlands. Authorities have asked that people avoid any open fires, because conditions are very dry in the peninsula.
In northern Nevada, meanwhile, lighter winds and higher humidity helped crews' efforts to curb the Topaz Ranch Estates wildfire that has razed more than 11 square miles (30 square km) of brush south of Carson City, charring two homes and 17 outbuildings.
Crews battling the 28-square-mile (72.5-square-km) Sunflower Fire, in Arizona, had succeeded in reinforcing control lines and it was more than 40 percent under control.
Utah firefighters battled a 3,600-acre (1,460-hectare) wildfire at the tip of a peninsula that juts into the Great Salt Lake. The blaze, believed to have been started by lightning, threatened a few structures.
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago, Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City and David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Greg McCune and Vicki Allen)