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Firefighters Expect Calmer Winds At Keystone Fire

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A fire burns west of Keystone Ski Area Thursday evening. (credit: CBS)

A fire burns west of Keystone Ski Area Thursday evening. (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

FRISCO, Colo. (AP) – Firefighters expected calmer winds Friday at a fire that burned up a ridge to within 50 yards of homes near Keystone Resort in the central-Colorado Mountains.

The 20-acre fire did not grow overnight and more firefighters were headed to the scene, said Steve Lipsher, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. Area houses and condominiums were evacuated as a precaution. Many of the residences are second homes and were vacant, he said.

The wildfire started Thursday afternoon at the mouth of Keystone Gulch west of the ski area, where crews were clearing trees to act as a fire break. Crews weren’t at the site when the fire began and the cause remained under investigation.

Winds gusting up to 50 mph quickly spread the fire, raising fears that it would go over a ridge and into the resort, where resort spokesman Ryan Whaley told the Summit Daily News that they were ready to use snowmaking equipment to dump water on the fire.

“It could have easily blown up much bigger than it did last night,” Lipsher said.

A federal team was expected to take over control of the fire Friday. About 60 firefighters were at the scene and Lipsher said they asked for a helicopter but were unsure whether one would arrive Friday because of several wildfires burning in the West. Crews were working in steep, rocky terrain with cliffs in some places and stands of dead trees that were making it difficult to fight the fire.

Several mountain communities and the U.S. Forest Service have been warning that the millions of acres of trees killed by bark beetles could provide fuel for catastrophic wildfires.

The fire near Keystone is one of at least four major wildfires burning in Colorado Friday.

Crews were at a 1.7-acre wildfire in Left Hand Canyon northwest of Boulder, north of an area where a wildfire destroyed more than 160 homes in September. That fire was fully contained after firefighters from four departments, the city of Boulder and the county responded to the scene.

“Given the low humidity and high temperatures, the conditions were favorable for intense fire behavior (Friday),” said incident commander Julie Stennes. “We are relieved to have the fire contained so quickly.”

In southern Colorado, officials reported progress against two wildfires that collectively have scorched about 20 square miles.

A lightning-sparked fire on the Colorado-New Mexico border was about 50 percent contained. A second fire at Purgatorie River Canyon northeast of Trinidad was 75 percent contained.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration Thursday to authorize up to $2.5 million in state aid for the firefighting costs.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for south-central Colorado from Woodland Park south to the New Mexico border. A red flag warning means dry, windy conditions exist that increase the risk of fire.

(© 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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