BELLVUE, Colo. (AP) – Authorities grounded firefighting aircraft battling an out-of-control blaze scorching central Colorado on Wednesday, reacting with caution to witness reports of meteor sightings.
The temporary move came amid several reported sky sightings near the 1,100-acre Springer Fire west of Colorado Springs.
Chaffee County Sheriff W. Peter Palmer said his office received multiple reports of sightings, including one person who thought a meteorite might have landed in a wooded area north of Buena Vista. Palmer said officials could not confirm that report.
Meanwhile, the crew of a heavy air tanker spotted something while making a slurry run on the blaze, said Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“They weren’t sure what it was,” Segin said, confirming the report of a possible meteor shower.
“They landed as they normally do to reload, and for safety reasons they grounded themselves until they could figure out what it was they saw,” he said.
The Colorado sightings corresponded with reports of a possible meteor filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., said meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder.
Other sky sightings were reported in Raton, N.M., Entrekin said.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said he had no such reports. He also said there were no reported disruptions to commercial airline traffic.
Fire officials ordered four single-engine aircraft to stay on the ground as a precaution. Two heavy air tankers were also affected. The planes soon resumed their attack on the fire, Entrekin said.
The American Meteor Society states that sky sightings often appear much closer than they actually are, saying the phenomenon is an illusion of perspective. The society also reports that the overwhelming majority of meteors burn up in the atmosphere before posing any threat.
Also Wednesday, authorities said recreational shooting may have started the Springer Fire near Lake George on Sunday. The U.S. Forest Service, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Park County authorities were investigating.
Residents have evacuated about 150 homes near the fire, which was about 25 percent contained.
Firefighters took advantage of a break in the heat Wednesday to ramp up their attack against the High Park wildfire that has blackened more than 100 square miles in northern Colorado. The blaze has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said it could be weeks or even months before it’s finally controlled.
After three straight days of gusty winds and temperatures in the 90s, temperatures were about 20 degrees cooler Wednesday. Some residents were allowed back to their homes, but hundreds remained evacuated.
In an area on the northeast corner of the fire area, where homes were evacuated but where residents have been allowed to return, one home with at least one outbuilding was reduced to piles of rock and rubble. A long narrow pasture in front of the house also was charred.
“We were able to save all the residences (on this road) with the exception of one,” said Patrick Love, spokesman for the Poudre Fire Authority.
On each side of the burned home and pasture were two other homes that were unscathed. Love said a combination of wind direction and firefighters’ efforts saved the adjacent homes.
Meanwhile west of Canon City, a portion of U.S. 50 was closed from Parkdale to Texas Creek due to a small wildfire sparked by highway mowing equipment Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management said.
A fire that broke out Tuesday in northwestern Colorado spread to about 3 square miles, or 2,000 acres, forcing some evacuations in a subdivision, but residents were able to return Tuesday night. Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said the fire is believed to have started from a cigarette thrown from a vehicle.
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
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