3,000 personnel battling at least 6 Colorado fires | AspenTimes.com

3,000 personnel battling at least 6 Colorado fires

Thomas Peipert
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
A helicopter makes a drop on the southern end of the Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 25, 2012. More than 3,000 personnel battled at least six wildfires in Colorado on Monday as thousands of people who were evacuated waited to find out when they could return. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Joe Amon)
AP | The Denver Post

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – More than 3,000 personnel battled at least six wildfires in Colorado on Monday as thousands of people who were evacuated waited to find out when they could return.

The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs had blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people, but no homes had been destroyed. Firefighters got a toehold against that blaze Monday, saying they had contained 5 percent of it by early evening.

About 11,000 people were evacuated over the weekend, but 5,000 of those were allowed to return.

The fire started Saturday; the cause was under investigation.

At least one Air Force C-130 cargo plane joined the battle Monday. The U.S. Forest Service requested four specially equipped firefighting C-130s, which couldn’t be put into service until all privately owned large tankers were in use or unavailable.

“When we broke that Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado and we looked at everything we have going on there in the Southwest plus the fires in Colorado and Utah, it was like, OK,” Tidwell said of the decision to call up more tankers.

Tidwell told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that about half of the nation’s personnel who are usually assigned to large fires are working in Colorado.

The High Park fire west of Fort Collins has blackened 130 square miles, killed one person and destroyed at least 248 homes, the worst property loss to fire in state history.

Thousands of residents have been evacuated since that fire started June 9, some more than once as firefighters wage a back-and-forth battle.

“I’m kind of anxious to get home,” said Ernest Martinez, one of the residents forced to flee. “And I feel bad for the rest of the dreamers that lost their homes and have to rebuild again.”

The fire, which was 45 percent contained, was sparked by lightning.

A fire near Rocky Mountain National Park destroyed 22 homes and vacation cabins and two outbuildings in the town of Estes Park. The fire has been contained and evacuated residents were allowed to return.

A new fire on Colorado’s Eastern Plains sprouted up Monday afternoon in the tiny, sparsely populated town of Last Chance. The fire had burned 2 square miles and damaged multiple structures, although it was unknown how many were homes, said Micki Trost, with the Colorado Division of Emergency Management. The town was under mandatory evacuation.

The 2012 fire season is already the state’s worst in a decade. In late March, the Lower North Fork Fire, 25 miles southwest of Denver, killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes. That fire was the result of a prescribed burn that grew out of control after it was set by the State Forest Service.

The weather offered little hope of short-term relief.

A heat wave sent temperatures soaring above 100 degrees in many places Monday. A red flag warning for high fire danger was in effect across most of the state.

Tidwell said Colorado’s fire season is about a month early.

“It’s just because it’s so dry,” he said. “Not unlike New Mexico – they saw very low snowpack, especially in that lower country. Hot, dry winds with dry fuels, you get the ignition and this is what we see.”

The state has banned open campfires and private fireworks. The federal Bureau of Land Management banned campfires and outdoor smoking and imposed other fire restrictions on its land in 21 counties covering most of eastern Colorado.

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