Record heat hampers efforts to fight wildfires

WOODLAND PARK, Colo. (AP) — Searing, record-setting heat in the interior West kept its grip on firefighters struggling to contain blazes in Colorado, Utah and other Rocky Mountain states on Tuesday.

Colorado has endured nearly a week of 100-plus-degree days and low humidity, sapping moisture from timber and grass, creating a devastating formula for volatile wildfires across the state and punishing conditions for firefighters.

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A golfer tees off as his partner watches a wildfire burning Monday in the Scratchgravel Hills in Helena, Mont. Scorching heat and high winds caused wildfires to break out across southwestern Montana.

“When it’s that hot, it just dries the fuels even more. That can make the fuels explosive,” said Steve Segin, a fire spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

All of Utah and much of Wyoming, Colorado and Montana were under a red flag warning, meaning conditions were hot, dry and ripe for fires.

Tuesday was the fifth consecutive day with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher in Denver, tying a record set in 2005 and 1989. On Monday, Denver set a record with 105 degrees. The previous record for June 25 was 100 degrees in 1991.

Other areas of the state also topped 100 degrees Tuesday, including the northeastern Colorado town of Wray, which hit 108, the National Weather Service said.

The scorching heat doesn’t appear to be letting up soon. Segin said such prolonged heat is “extremely taxing” physically on firefighters, who are working long days and carrying heavy gear.

The 7-square-mile Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., sent heavy smoke billowing over an upscale neighborhood as firefighters battled to keep the fire from burning houses and advancing toward the Air Force Academy.

The fire was less than 5 miles from the southwest corner of the academy’s 28-square-mile campus, fire information officer Greg Heule said. Winds appeared to be pushing the fire to the west of the school.

Television video showed smoke and flames close to houses in a forested neighborhood northwest of Colorado Springs. There were no reports of homes burning.

The fire was 5 percent contained.

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