Mesa Verde Fire Burns 17,000 Acres

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of firefighters struggled against hot weather and rough terrain as they battled a fierce, fickle wildfire raging through the nation's largest archaeological preserve.

The fire in Mesa Verde National Park nearly tripled in size in 24 hours, charring 17,000 acres by Sunday night. The blaze sent ash raining down on surrounding towns and a plume of smoke towering 40,000 feet into the sky.

``It's moving. It's a big, powerful fire,'' said Justin Dombrowski, a spokesman for the team fighting the fire. ``Right now, it's moving so fast and so far that it puts everything in that park at a greater threat.''

The effort to contain the blaze was hobbled by rough terrain as flames ripped over mesas and into canyons inaccessible to firefighters, he said.

No major structural damage had been reported Sunday, but the fire was only a few miles from the ruins known as Cliff Palace, the park's major attraction. The fire started Thursday, apparently from a lightning strike. The park was closed indefinitely.

Wildfires also burned in Southern California, including a 5,500-acre blaze in a remote canyon in Death Valley National Park. Near Oroville, Wash., a wildfire consumed more than 7,300 acres and destroyed six homes.

At Mesa Verde, where Indian dwellings were discovered in the cliffs hundreds of years ago, the wildfire has uncovered at least a dozen previously unknown sites as it strips away concealing vegetation.

``It's a bit of a trade off,'' said Jane Anderson, a National Park Service archaeologists. ``It's exciting to see the new ruins and get that information, but at the same time, fire can destroy these sites.''

A dozen archaeologists were accompanying firefighters to help identify new sites and protect them if possible.

A second fire, about 25 miles northwest of the park, burned 600 acres and forced the evacuation of nearby residents. It was 30 percent contained by Sunday evening. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.

Three other fires burned more than 3,500 acres in northwestern Colorado. One of the blazes, near Rangely, was 40 percent contained Sunday.

Nearly 56,000 fires have burned 2.8 million acres nationwide this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho, the largest acreage total since 1996.


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