Crews battling wildfire gain ground |

Crews battling wildfire gain ground

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Presss
Aspen, CO Colorado
Firefighters clear brush and fuel from a fire line near the Canyon Creek Estates subdivision after a fire flared up near New Castle, Colo., on Tuesday, June 19, 2007. (AP Photo/The Rocky Mountain News, Chris Schneider) ** DENVER POST OUT MAGS OUT TV OUT MANDATORY CREDIT **
AP | Rocky Mountain News

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Firefighters took advantage of calm winds and higher humidity Wednesday morning to extend protective lines along a 1,000-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 90 homes west of Glenwood Springs.

Crews set a small, controlled fire called a back burn between the wildfire and scores of houses to eat up vegetation that could otherwise fuel runaway flames, Garfield County sheriff’s spokeswoman Tanny McGinnis said.

“It (the back burn) did exactly what we intended for it to do,” McGinnis said. “The only issue is, there’s no way to predict what will happen with the winds.”

Erratic winds on Tuesday afternoon whipped the fire over steep inclines and through highly flammable Gambel oak, pinon pine and juniper trees east of New Castle and west of Glenwood Springs, about 160 miles west of Denver

Residents of another 110 homes were advised to evacuate but had not been ordered to. No structures had burned, although some were within a half-mile of the flames.

The fire was at least 15 percent contained.

About 200 ground firefighters, two heavy air tankers, two single-engine planes and four helicopters were on the scene. One firefighter injured his hand and another suffered heat exhaustion.

“It’s been a really scary fire,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. “It’s behavior has been bizarre. We’re struggling to get a handle on it.”

The flames were not far from the scene of two previous fires that left deep physical and emotional scars.

The 1994 Storm King Mountain fire killed 14 elite firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames. In 2002, a long-smoldering fire along an underground coal seam ignited vegetation on the surface, forcing evacuations.

“As we stand here looking at Storm King, this commands a lot of respect,” Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Mike Piper said Tuesday. “Our motto in Glenwood Springs is ‘Never forget.'”

Chuck Johnson said he and his wife, Beverly, had been ordered to leave their home during the Storm King fire but did not. On Tuesday, they got another evacuation order and were preparing to comply.

“We are getting our valuables, paintings and getting out of here,” said Chuck Johnson, a retired forester. “The smoke from the fire is tremendous. The southwest wind is really driving the thing.”

About 20 miles west of the New Caste fire, a second blaze had charred more than 1,000 remote and rugged acres by Wednesday. It was 80 percent contained, and crews expected to have it fully encircled later in the day.

A third blaze was contained Monday night after charring four acres near houses and natural gas wells outside the town of Parachute, west of Rifle, Colo.

All three fires were blamed on lightning strikes Sunday.

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