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Originally published July 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 7, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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No shaking this baking for heat-stressed West

If a record-breaking heat wave doesn't lift soon, cattle rancher Sharon McDonald may see her hay crop turn to dust. Temperatures eased a bit...

The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — If a record-breaking heat wave doesn't lift soon, cattle rancher Sharon McDonald may see her hay crop turn to dust.

Temperatures eased a bit Friday in some parts of the West, but McDonald's central Montana ranch baked under triple-digit heat. Forecasters reported little relief in the days ahead, saying the weather system that brought the high temperatures could last well into next week.

"We are trying to get our hay up before it disintegrates," said McDonald, a rancher near Melville. "It just gets crispy and just falls apart."

Extreme heat baked much of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Oregon.

In Montana, temperatures above 100 degrees are usually not seen until August. The normal July high in Helena is 83 degrees, not the high 90s seen Friday. Triple-digit records were set or tied in several Montana cities, including Great Falls and Billings at 104 degrees each.

Boise, Idaho, reached 105 degrees Friday. Phoenix saw a modest drop, 112 degrees compared with 115 on Thursday.

In Eastern Oregon, which set 15 record highs Thursday, temperatures largely dropped to the high 90s. In the center of the state, population growth and a burgeoning demand for air conditioning meant a rise in electricity demand.

Officials said the fire season could turn fearsome after the dry heat. "It's an early start and a hot start," said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Velver in Great Falls.

The National Forest Service reported at least 16 fires larger than 500 acres burning throughout the West.

The heat complicated firefighting efforts Friday in Utah, Southern California, Nevada and Oregon.

Crews managed to keep a week-old blaze that killed three people and destroyed a dozen homes in northeastern Utah from growing much larger, despite gusty wind, officials said.

Twelve helicopters and more than 800 firefighters were working the fire 100 miles east of Salt Lake City. It was 55 percent contained Friday and had consumed about 66 square miles in Uintah and Duchesne counties.

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On the Utah-Arizona line, where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, 50 firefighters and two air tankers fought a blaze southwest of St. George that was sparked by lightning Thursday and burned at least 4,000 acres.

In Southern California, a 1,500-acre wildfire burned in the foothills of Santa Barbara County as nearly 1,000 firefighters struggled to halt its spread in dense, dry brush.

In southeast Oregon Thursday, a burning vehicle ignited a wildfire that grew to 10,000 acres. It was burning Friday five miles away from Oregon State University's Northern Great Basin Experiment Station, federal officials said.

In Nevada, lightning sparked more than a dozen brush fires Friday. One blaze jumped a highway in Douglas County about 60 miles south of Reno and forced the evacuations of homes.

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