DENVER (AP) – Firefighters have given up some ground to a wind-whipped blaze that has scorched more than 118 square miles in northern Colorado and destroyed at least 191 homes, the most in state history.
Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said some crews stationed near threatened homes had to retreat for their safety Friday, and containment had slipped from 60 percent to 45 percent. The lightning-caused fire burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins was reported June 9 and is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old woman whose body was found in her cabin.
Authorities issued nearly 1,000 evacuation notices Friday night, some of which went to residents who had returned home just two days earlier after leaving when the fire flared up Sunday. Authorities said the fire, which cast a silvery haze and dropped ash near its northern edge Saturday, is believed to have damaged or destroyed an additional 10 structures.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bernie Meier said dry conditions and temperatures in the 80s and 90s were expected to hinder firefighting efforts Saturday, and winds could gust to 35 mph later in the afternoon.
Hahnenberg acknowledged that despite five heavy air tankers and 18 helicopters assigned to the blaze, high winds could pose a problem for firefighters.
“If we get gusts over 30 miles an hour, we’ll probably get (the tankers) back on the ground and keep them there. Same with the helicopters,” he said.
Nearly 1,900 personnel are working on the fire, which so far has cost an estimated $25.5 million to fight.
On Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed executive orders releasing $6.2 million more in state disaster money to fight the fire and two others.
The Fort Collins-area fire will have $5 million more available, on top of $20 million made available by a previous order. The blaze has qualified for 75 percent federal reimbursement for firefighting costs, Hickenlooper’s office said.
Meanwhile, a fire northwest of Colorado Springs that has burned 1,145 acres and is 87 percent contained will get $1 million, and the Stuart Hole fire in Larimer County will receive $200,000. The disaster money is coming partly from reserve funds.
Elsewhere in Colorado, a fire near Mancos in the southwestern part of the state prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 55 homes Saturday. Fire spokeswoman Pam Wilson said the blaze was reported Friday and has burned and estimated 2,500 acres.
Crews also were battling a wildfire near Pagosa Springs that has charred more than 18,000 acres of rugged and inaccessible terrain north of the Piedra River. That fire was sparked by lighting May 13 and is 34 percent contained.
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– By THOMAS PEIPERT, Associated Press
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