Wildfires claim 189 homes in northern Colorado
June 18, 2012
LOVELAND, Colo. – Firefighters faced dangerous conditions across much of the Rocky Mountain region Monday, as they toiled in hot, dry weather to battle a wildfire that has charred nearly 92 square miles in northern Colorado.
Authorities said they determined eight more homes have burned in the fire near Fort Collins. The blaze started June 9 and now has destroyed at least 189 homes – the most in the state’s history. The fire is 50 percent contained.
The wind was relatively calm Monday, despite forecasts of gusts of up to 50 mph, fire information officer Brett Haberstick said. Temperatures, however, were in the mid-90s, and the relative humidity was extremely low at 3 to 5 percent, he said.
Other wildfires were burning in warm, arid weather from Wyoming to Arizona to Southern California, where a blaze that prompted the evacuation of at least 150 homes was 30 percent contained Monday.
Fire officials warned that the 907-acre fire in eastern San Diego County still threatens 200 houses, sheds and other buildings. The fire has destroyed at least one home.
In Colorado, another fire that started Sunday in the foothills west of Colorado Springs prompted evacuations of cabins, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area.
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That fire has burned about 1 1/2 square miles, and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry conditions. Authorities hadn’t listed a containment figure by Monday.
Meanwhile, a fire near Pagosa Springs in the southwestern part of the state grew to nearly 19 square miles and was 30 percent contained.
As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.
On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff’s department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.
His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.
Jeff Corum, whose home burned on the first day of the northern Colorado fire, described whirling, unpredictable winds that drove the blaze.
“That’s what it’s been doing, back and forth,” Corum said. “It’s just like a washing machine, and it’s just rolling up there, and that’s the way the mountains are.”
Corum grabbed some clothing and two weapons when he fled, but not his credit cards. He’s spent a few nights in a motel, some at a Red Cross evacuation center and some in his truck.
The fire also is forcing wildlife to flee the flames. A moose seeking shelter in Fort Collins is back in the wild after swimming across Horsetooth Reservoir, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.
Wildlife officials tranquilized the moose, blindfolded it and moved it to an area away from the fire. City officials say they’re expecting more wild animals than usual because of the fire.
On Monday, Rocky Mountain National Park enacted a ban on all campfires because of the threat of wildfires in Colorado. The park normally allows campfires in designated fire rings, but the ban will prohibit those, as well as charcoal grilling, for the first time since September 2010.
Authorities also are trying to enforce a ban on using private fireworks in Colorado.
Across the West:
• In California, nearly 500 personnel have been dispatched to fight the fire east of Campo, in San Diego County. Water-dropping helicopters doused the area Monday, and firefighters braced for temperatures to rise and winds to pick up speed. Still, fire officials expected the blaze to be fully contained Tuesday night.
• In Wyoming, a grass fire destroyed four homes in a small community outside Casper on Sunday, but no one was injured. Another wildfire discovered Sunday grew to about 1,200 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest amid wind gusts up to 40 mph Monday.
• In Nevada, crews were fighting a 34-square-mile fire north of Ely that has burned a mobile home. The person living there was evacuated, and no injuries have been reported in the fire burning steep, rugged terrain on the east side of the Schell Mountain Range, authorities said.
A brush fire destroyed one home and seriously damaged another north of Reno, only a few miles from where a separate brush fire destroyed two mobile homes and several vehicles the day before.
Several residences were evacuated and a plume of smoke was visible across town when a fire was reported on the east side of Sun Valley shortly before 4 p.m. Monday. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported at least three homes suffered some damage, including one that was destroyed.
• In New Mexico, firefighters were taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Another fire broke out Monday and burned four structures along a 5-mile stretch of the San Juan River in far northwestern New Mexico. Another fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.
• In Arizona, firefighters were focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes. The fire was 15 percent contained.
• In Utah, a 208-acre blaze on the west side of Lake Mountain was fully contained Monday morning, officials said. The fire started Saturday and was human-caused. No structures are threatened.
• In northwest Nebraska, firefighters were attacking a wildfire reported Sunday that has blackened roughly 1,500 to 2,000 acres. No injuries have been reported, and there have been no reports of buildings being burned, authorities said Monday.