Snow, shifting winds slow Fort Collins wildfire's growth

April 4, 2011

DENVER — A wind driven wildfire west of Fort Collins scorched more than seven square miles — more than double original estimates — and destroyed more than a dozen homes before shifting winds and snow slowed its spread Sunday.

Larimer County officials found about 15 homes had been destroyed, along with cars, motor homes, trailers and trucks. The fire was about 5 percent contained.

Because of the wet weather that moved over the area and a decrease in fire activity, evacuation orders for 335 homes were lifted and residents were allowed back in. Officials warned that drier, windy weather was expected Monday.

Fire management officials called the snow and wet weather a "gift" that helped crews fighting the fire after it grew during the night from 25 acres Saturday to 4,500 acres by Sunday morning.

"It was pretty nice when the rain and the snow came," Rist Canyon resident Aaron Brault told The Associated Press by phone. He said he packed bags and prepared to evacuate despite the wet weather. "We're keeping our eye on the fire."

The fire began in a rugged, hilly area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, and grew rapidly as winds increased to 50 mph, with gusts of 80 mph, forcing sheriff's deputies to go door-to-door to warn residents to evacuate.

"It looked like the entire southern sky was on fire," resident Mike Guli told KUSA-TV.

David Creapeau told the TV station he packed up a few things and left when glowing orange embers began falling on his property. Creapeau said his home appeared to have escaped damage.

Authorities had ordered evacuations for 40 homes south of Buckhorn Canyon, 70 homes east of Crystal Mountain Road, and 225 homes around Redstone Canyon.

Smoke from the blaze spread into Fort Collins, which is about 58 miles south of Denver, and the surrounding area.

The fire was one of several that burned parts of Colorado on Saturday, which had been warm, windy and dry. The state has been under a prolonged drought, with below-average rainfall east of the Rockies during March, traditionally one of Colorado's wettest months.

In recent weeks, wildfires have temporarily forced thousands of people out of their homes in the suburban Denver and Boulder areas, charred foothills west of Golden and blackened grassland in the eastern plains. In September, a wildfire near Boulder destroyed 169 homes, making it the most destructive in Colorado history.

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