Monday, June 11, 2012

Hundreds flee wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico

LAPORTE, Colo. ? Firefighters on Sunday were battling wildfires that spread quickly in parched forests in Colorado and New Mexico, forcing hundreds of people from their homes and the evacuation of wolves from a sanctuary.

The Colorado fire, in a mountainous area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, grew to 31 square miles within about a day of being reported, destroying or damaging 18 structures.

In southern New Mexico, strong winds grounded aircraft fighting a 40-square-mile wildfire near the mountain community of Ruidoso. Crews were working to build a fire line around the blaze, which started Friday and has damaged or destroyed 36 structures.

It wasn't immediately clear how many of the lost structures were homes.

In Colorado, the fire sent up heavy smoke, obscuring the sun and creating an eerie, orange dusk in the middle of the day. The smell drifted into the Denver area and smoke spread as far as central Nebraska, western Kansas and Texas.

The latest New Mexico blaze is smaller than the Whitewater-Baldy fire ? the largest in the state's history ? but more worrisome to authorities because it started closer to homes, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. He said the number of Ruidoso evacuees was in the hundreds.

Elsewhere Sunday, firefighters were battling a wildfire that blackened 6 square miles in Wyoming's Guernsey State Park and forced the evacuation of 500 to 1,000 campers and visitors. Cooler weather was helping firefighters in their battle against two other wildfires in southern Utah.

In Colorado, authorities sent nearly 1,800 evacuation notices to phone numbers but it wasn't clear how many residents had to leave.

Authorities say it's the worst fire in Larimer County in about 25 years. It spread as fast as 11/2 mph Saturday, skipping over some areas but burning intensely in trees in others.

The blaze forced the evacuation of 11 wolves from a sanctuary. KUSA-TV in Denver reported that 19 wolves remained at the sanctuary, which has underground concrete bunkers known as "fire dens" that can be used by the animals.

The speed of the fire's spread has dashed any hope of containment for the time being.

"These folks are doing everything they can," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said, "but Mother Nature is running this fire."

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