Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

WILDFIRE ROUNDUP: Fire rages, Colorado town braces for long evacuation

The Associated Press Updated: June 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm

A roundup of wildfires in Colorado:

DEL NORTE, Colo. (AP) — A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

The weather has prevented fire crews from making progress on the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. The speed with which the fire has spread is exceptional: It was just below 50 square miles Friday evening.

No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

It is doubtful fire crews could establish any containment lines until there's a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said. They remained optimistic they can protect the town, however.

As of Sunday, officials firefighters remained focused on protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area and homes along Highway 149.

Crews hoped to get aircraft up to drop water over the fire before afternoon winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour returned Sunday. Pete Blume, a commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team, said the wildfire is the worst ever known to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

"It's not typical to have these kinds of fires here," said Blume. "But beetle kill and drought is also not the norm."

Firefighters are hoping for a break in the high winds as well as the anticipated July monsoons to help them fight back the flames. Until then, Blume said, "with that much beetle kill and drought we could have every resource in the country here and still not put in a containment line."

Still, fire officials believe portions of the blaze will likely burn all summer in forested, nonresidential areas, with full extinguishment probably months away.

The lightning-sparked blaze started June 5, but its rapid advance Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and the town's 400 permanent residents.

Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.

"They just said they had no idea how long it would be before we could back in South Fork," said Mike Duffy, who owns the South Fork Lodge.

Duffy said he and his wife, Mary, were able to get their personal possessions before fleeing fast-advancing flames that officials initially feared would overtake the town. But with the fire still within three miles of South Fork, they are worried about the long-term impact of a prolong evacuation and news reports about the fire raging around the tourism-dependent town.

Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.

South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke estimates that between 1,000 to 1,500 people had to flee, including the summer visitors and permanent residents.

More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, and more are coming every day. They also focused on newest arm of the fire as it crept through beetle kill toward the historic mining town of Creede, the last silver boom town in Colorado before the industry went bust in the late 1800s.

Fire near Conifer near full containment

CONIFER (AP) — A wildfire burning in the foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver is expected to be fully contained soon and evacuation orders have been lifted.

Fire officials say they expect the Lime Gulch fire near Conifer to be contained by Sunday evening. It is currently 90 percent contained.

No structures have been destroyed and no injuries have been reported. The fire has burned 511 acres.

Fire officials say they believe the blaze started by lightning on Wednesday. It forced about 100 people to leave their homes. Those evacuation orders were lifted Saturday night.

Crews make progress on Walsenburg blaze

WALSENBURG (AP) — Firefighters are making progress on a wildfire that has forced people in 300 homes near Walsenburg to flee.

Fire officials say the 19-square-mile wildfire burning 10 miles southwest of Walsenburg was 10 percent contained Sunday. But officials say a portion of the fire is in heavily timbered areas and there's great potential for growth.

The East Peak fire was caused by lightning Wednesday afternoon. Fire officials say structure protection remains a priority for crews.

The John Mall High School in the northwest part of the city is housing an American Red Cross shelter.

Bull Gulch fire 80 percent contained

The 76-acre fire about nine miles northeast of Cotapaxi in Fremont County was at 80 percent contained on Saturday evening, fire managers said.

On Saturday, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office cancelled the pre-evacuation status for residents near the fire north of Texas Creek.

Fire crews have begun mop-up operations, and the fire is producing minimal smoke.

No structures have been lost; about 30 residences near Snow Drift Lane remain on pre-evacuation status.

The Texas Creek Trail system is now open again.

The fire started Wednesday afternoon; the cause is under investigation.

DEL NORTE, Colo. (AP) — A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

The weather has prevented fire crews from making progress on the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. The speed with which the fire has spread is exceptional: It was just below 50 square miles Friday evening.

No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

It is doubtful fire crews could establish any containment lines until there's a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said. They remained optimistic they can protect the town, however.

As of Sunday, officials firefighters remained focused on protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area and homes along Highway 149.

Crews hoped to get aircraft up to drop water over the fire before afternoon winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour returned Sunday. Pete Blume, a commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team, said the wildfire is the worst ever known to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

"It's not typical to have these kinds of fires here," said Blume. "But beetle kill and drought is also not the norm."

Firefighters are hoping for a break in the high winds as well as the anticipated July monsoons to help them fight back the flames. Until then, Blume said, "with that much beetle kill and drought we could have every resource in the country here and still not put in a containment line."

Still, fire officials believe portions of the blaze will likely burn all summer in forested, nonresidential areas, with full extinguishment probably months away.

The lightning-sparked blaze started June 5, but its rapid advance Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and the town's 400 permanent residents.

Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.

"They just said they had no idea how long it would be before we could back in South Fork," said Mike Duffy, who owns the South Fork Lodge.

Duffy said he and his wife, Mary, were able to get their personal possessions before fleeing fast-advancing flames that officials initially feared would overtake the town. But with the fire still within three miles of South Fork, they are worried about the long-term impact of a prolong evacuation and news reports about the fire raging around the tourism-dependent town.

Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.

South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke estimates that between 1,000 to 1,500 people had to flee, including the summer visitors and permanent residents.

More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, and more are coming every day. They also focused on newest arm of the fire as it crept through beetle kill toward the historic mining town of Creede, the last silver boom town in Colorado before the industry went bust in the late 1800s.

Elsewhere in Colorado, about a dozen fires also continued to burn. Firefighters were making progress on a 19-square-mile wildfire near Walsenburg in southern Colorado. The fire was 10 percent contained.

And a wildfire in foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver was expected to be fully contained Sunday evening. That fire burned 511 acres and forced 100 people to leave their homes.

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