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Washington County declared a state of emergency Wednesday as the 823-acre Saddle Fire burned completely free of containment for the 10th day in a row.

Keeping a wary eye out for renegade drones in southern Utah's smoky skies, firefighters braved flames and hot weather Wednesday while trying to hem in the stubborn, lightning-sparked wildfire that forced evacuations of nearby homes and campgrounds.

Crews planned to survey the fire throughout the night and give a new acreage estimate Thursday morning, said Dixie National Forest fire information officer Christian Venhuizen said.

The total cost of the wildfire is $1.2 million, Venhuizen said Wednesday night.

Late Tuesday, as the then-691-acre Saddle Fire approached within a mile of Washington County homes, 100 mostly seasonal residences housing 35 people were evacuated. None of the homes had burned as of Wednesday night, but the precautionary evacuations of the Lloyd Canyon area at the western end of Pine Valley remained in place until the situation was deemed stabilized.

"We are still at zero percent containment," Venhuizen said Wednesday. "The fire remains pretty much on Saddle Mountain, but it is making its way further down to where the terrain is a little flatter and more accommodating for us to fight it on the ground."

Venhuizen said about 400 firefighters ­­— from four states and private and government agencies — were aided by bulldozers as they worked to widen natural fire breaks around the community of Pine Valley, and to dig containment lines at strategic locations on the perimeter of the blaze.

The fire was still burning in an area that would put firefighters in danger Wednesday night, Venhuizen said.

"We are removing fuels — branches, brush, that type of stuff — within areas along roadways, creating defense positions [and] letting the fire burn toward us," he said.

He added that helicopters were making "fire bucket drops, not to extinguish [the wildfire], but to slow it down."

Fire officials have heard concerns from residents about fires that flare up again after they've died down, he said, he but considers flare-ups "normal fire behavior" for the type of environment it's in.

Air tankers were successful overnight Tuesday in laying down a thick barrier of fire retardant chemicals along the southern edge of the fire, underscoring the critical need for air assets in subduing the flames.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gary Herbert visited the fire scene Wednesday afternoon to get an update on the blaze and communicate with local officials.

Of particular concern to the governor, was the use of drones and how they have impacted efforts to fight the fire.

"Evacuations likely could have been avoided if drones hadn't interrupted air attack on the fire," Herbert said in a tweet after the visit. "That is completely unacceptable."

Fire officials estimated Wednesday night that there are about 500 residences who are considered "threatened," meaning evacuations are still about 72 hours out, Venhuizen said.

On Monday, a drone — one of the small, remote-controlled air vehicles came within a few feet of a helicopter — grounded the fleet of water- and fire-retardant laden aircraft attacking the blaze, about 2 miles southwest of the town of Pine Valley. Drones also had disrupted air missions twice over the past weekend.

But late Tuesday, with evacuations of homes and campgrounds near the blaze under way, fire managers decided the helicopters and air tankers had to return to the fight — even as they hoped the drones would not return.

"We made the decision that the safety of the community and our firefighters warranted going back up into the air," Venhuizen said.

Federal, state, and local fire agencies, in addition to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, are hunting for the drone operators. They could face state misdemeanor or felony charges for violating the Saddle Fire's 5-mile flight exclusion zone, facing penalties of up to $275,000 and three years in jail if convicted.

The sheriff's office has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the drone operator from Monday's incident. Anyone with information is asked to call 435-634-5734.

There was good news for hazy Washington County late Tuesday, when the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Saddle Fire. That means 75 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs will be covered.

The FEMA grant is for "managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires," however, not providing aid to home or business owners for any fire damages.

Meanwhile, a new fire on Taylor Mountain, northwest of Vernal, appeared to be dying down.

"It's going well today," said Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kelsey Birchell said of the Ashley Fire, which began the day at 85 acres and 10 percent containment, with full containment possible by nightfall Wednesday or early on Thursday.

The specific origin of the fire remained under investigation, though it appeared human-caused.

Washington County's other lightning-caused blaze, Aspen Fire was contained at 355 acres at 2 p.m. Wednesday, said public information officer Bode Mecham. Maintenance for that wildfire will be handed over to a local unit Thursday, he said.

Twitter: @remims, @mnoblenews