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Arizona wildfire threatens hundreds of homes, California blaze wanes

By Tim Gaynor and Alex Dobuzinskis

PHOENIX/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An Arizona wildfire whipped up by strong winds threatened hundreds of homes on Wednesday, even as firefighters were gaining an edge on a California blaze raging near a pristine wilderness, authorities said.

More than 500 firefighters were battling the Doce Fire, which has burned through 7,000 acres of chaparral, pine and juniper since Tuesday morning near Prescott, about 100 miles north of Phoenix, the Prescott National Forest said in a statement.

Fanned by gusting winds, the fire has led to evacuation orders for about 200 homes in five residential areas northwest of Prescott near the Granite Mountain Wilderness area, although no structures had been burned or injuries reported.

"All of the current evacuations are still in place," said Noel Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the Prescott National Forest, who expected the fire to grow. "It's hot, dry and very windy ... and we have zero percent containment at this time."

The blaze is among dozens of active fires that have claimed at least two lives, charred hundreds of square miles of land and torched hundreds of homes across the Western United States and even in Alaska, which is baking in a heatwave.

The recent string of fires have underscored concerns that prolonged drought conditions in the West could intensify this year's fire season.

In Northern California, firefighters have made advances in combating a 1,600-acre (647-hectare) wildfire that broke out on Sunday near a highway that serves as a main route to Yosemite National Park. The blaze is 40 percent contained, said fire information officer Brenda Diaz.

Some 500 homes remain threatened by the blaze and under evacuation orders, but none have been damaged or destroyed by the so-called Carstens Fire, she said.

In Alaska, where temperatures in some areas have topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) in recent days, wildfires have burned more than 225 square miles (583 square km) by early on Wednesday, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Two people and two dogs had to be rescued by helicopter from a lightning-sparked fire near a mining camp in the Alaskan interior that had burned about 70 square miles (181 square kms), fire management officials said.

Authorities in Colorado said the so-called Black Forest Fire, which has burned in the rolling hills outside Colorado Springs since last week and killed at least two people, was 85 percent contained by Wednesday.

The blaze, the most destructive in Colorado's history, has charred more than 22 square miles (57 square km) and destroyed 509 homes.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Yereth Rosen in Alaska, editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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