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Indian Gulch Wildfire Forces Roads Closures Again

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GOLDEN, Colo. (AP/CBS) – Firefighters worked through the night to prevent a wildfire burning west of Denver from growing, but it started to grow again during the day.

Smoke was rising from the nearly 2-square-mile blaze in the foothills near Golden on Wednesday morning. The fire is still only about 25 percent contained. Authorities said Wednesday morning the good news was that crews were mostly able to keep the fire from spreading, but it grew to 1,211 acres by Wednesday afternoon. By Wednesday evening it seemed to be holding steady.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said an air crew once again began flying above the fire and letting ground crews know of any changes in fire behavior. Helicopters are also dropping water on the fire.

Firefighters had faced gusts of 75 mph in some areas but it has eased on Wednesday afternoon.

Highway 6 and Golden Canyon Road had to once again be closed on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire has been eating through grass, brush and trees in two rugged canyons outside Golden since Sunday. Authorities said they went door-to-door through the affected area Monday to make sure everyone had left. Residents of hundreds more homes were told to be ready to leave.

space Indian Gulch Wildfire Forces Roads Closures Again

PHOTO GALLERY: More Images Of The Fire

Officials suspect the fire was human-caused.

No injuries have been reported and no structures have burned. Jefferson County sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said flames moved past two homes overnight Monday into Tuesday but firefighters were able to save both. Firefighting costs have totaled $680,000 so far.

Although the Colorado mountains and their ski resorts have above-average snowpack, the lower foothills and high plains east of the Rockies have had little moisture since August, said Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which coordinates federal, state and local firefighting.

“It hasn’t been just the last couple weeks. This is part of an extended dry period,” he said.

Eastern Colorado hasn’t been this dry since 2002 or 2003, Mathewson said, and fire danger could remain high until mid-April, when vegetation begins to green up with spring weather.

Colorado had one of its worst wildfire seasons in 2002, when fires charred more than 332,000 acres through June of that year, including 138,000 acres — or 215 square miles — burned in the Hayman Fire, the largest wildfire in state history.

indian gulch fire1 Indian Gulch Wildfire Forces Roads Closures Again

An image of the Indian Gulch fire from Copter4 on Wednesday morning (credit: CBS)

The U.S. Drought Monitor says most of Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains is in a severe drought. Much of eastern Colorado, along with a broad swath of Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, were under a National Weather Service red flag warning Tuesday, meaning fire danger is high because humidity is 15 percent or less and winds are at least 25 mph.

Most of the mountains were under a winter storm watch, with 5 to 10 inches of snow expected.

Jefferson County, where the foothills fire was burning, and at least three other Colorado counties have banned open fires. Denver banned fires in its 18 mountain parks scattered across four counties. The Larimer County sheriff warned residents that fire danger was high, but the county hasn’t barred fires.

A smaller, 10-acre fire southwest of Golden was contained Monday, allowing the residents of 25 evacuated homes to return. A third fire in the mountains of Jefferson County burned at least one structure before it was contained.

A wind-driven blaze scorched 622 acres west of Boulder on March 11. More than 200 homes were evacuated for a few hours, but none was damaged.

LINK: Wildfire Resources

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Air tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water on a wildfire in the tinder-dry foothills west of Denver on Tuesday while 17 homes remained under evacuation orders.

Residents of hundreds more homes were told to be ready to evacuate if the fire came their way.

The fire, burning through grass, brush and trees in two rugged canyons outside Golden, started Sunday and had blackened about 1,200 acres or 2 square miles by Tuesday. It was 15 percent contained. Officials say they suspect it was human-caused.

High winds spread the fire Monday, and crews were bracing for more wind Tuesday, with gusts as high as 75 mph expected, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said.

No injuries have been reported and no structures have burned. Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said the flames moved past two homes overnight but firefighters were able to save both.

About 200 firefighters were on the lines Tuesday.

“I don’t care how many firefighters they have, they can’t control a fire that’s raging in wind like that,” said Keith Lowden, who was watching the fire with binoculars from a bedroom window at his home in a nearby subdivision. “That’s the scariest part.”

Months of dry weather have left much of Colorado vulnerable to wildfires, leaving what Techmeyer called “the perfect recipe for a fire disaster.”

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