Hundreds flee as Colo., NM fires grow

LAPORTE, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters on Sunday were fighting wildfires that have 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, burning in a mountainous area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, grew to 22 square miles within about a day of being reported and has destroyed or damaged 18 structures.

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

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the structures lost 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 of smoke drifted into the Denver area and smoke from the fires spread as far away as parts of central Nebraska, western Kansas and Texas.

The latest New Mexico fire is smaller than the Whitewater-Baldy fire — the largest in the state’s history — but it’s more concerning 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, but he didn’t have an exact figure.

Karen Takai, a spokeswoman for crews battling the Ruidoso fire, said smoke is heavily impacting the community of Capitan, about 5 miles northeast of the fire. She said in addition to the communities that have been evacuated, Capitan and others could face evacuation.

Elsewhere Sunday, firefighters were battling a wildfire that blackened 6 square miles in Wyoming’s Guernsey State Park and forced the evacuation of 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 immediately clear how many residents had to leave. About 500 people had checked in at Red Cross shelters. Larimer County sheriff Justin Smith said. He said there was an unconfirmed report of a person unaccounted for, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

The fire is the latest to hit Colorado’s drought-stricken Front Range. In May, a fire set by a camper’s stove charred 12 square miles in the same Poudre Canyon area. In March, the Lower North Fork Fire, 25 miles southwest of Denver, killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes. That fire was triggered by a prescribed burn by the state forest service.

Eight air tankers — including two from Canada — and several helicopters were on the scene to help fight the blaze.

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