Cool Weather Aids Colo. Firefighters


Friday, June 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


PINE JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Cool, moist air moved into the Colorado Rockies early Friday, giving hope the worst is over for crews battling two blazes that have scorched more than 19,000 acres, destroyed more than 50 homes and displaced hundreds of people.

The gusting winds and hot, dry air that hampered containment efforts for three days has given way to temperatures in the low 50s and a chance of rain, lending hope to hundreds of weary firefighters.

``The fact that it's cooler, less wind, more moisture in the air generally is a help,'' said Steep Weiss, a fire management team spokesman.

``I think the worst is over,'' added fire information officer Bob Sturdivant. ``Humidity is up. The fire behavior won't be as erratic as it has been.''

An estimated 10,950 acres of wooded foothills have burned 35 miles southwest of Denver since Monday. At least 39 homes were destroyed.

Ninety miles away, nearly 8,100 acres had burned just east of Rocky Mountain National Park by Thursday night. Fifteen homes were destroyed.

At least 800 people have been evacuated in both areas since Monday.

The fires are the largest in what is shaping up as the worst fire season since 1996. The National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho reported Thursday that there have been more than 45,000 fires across the country this season burning 1.2 million acres — 1 million of them in the South and Southwest.

The Colorado fires grew by thousands of acres Thursday as winds gusted to 60 mph and temperatures reached into the 80s.

Some 1,500 firefighters were on hand, along with at least 200 Colorado National Guard soldiers. They prepared for an all-out blitz Friday, hoping advances in containment lines combined with more favorable weather conditions would speed progress against the flames.

By Thursday night, the northern fire was 40 percent contained and the southern fire 25 percent contained.

While the fire near the national park has affected primarily ranching and farming communities dotted with homes, the fire near Pine Junction has burned an area of mountain subdivisions and national forest. Many residents hoped to get a look at their homes Friday, including Pete Grunwald.

He fled his subdivision Monday, but managed to get in Tuesday night to see that both of his neighbors' houses had been destroyed. His home, however, was still standing.

``It's like divine intervention, nothing was burned at my house,'' he said, not knowing what to expect when he returns again.

Elsewhere, strong winds grounded an air attack against a 1,000-acre fire in northern New Mexico and fanned a 1,000-acre blaze in the Gila National Forest, in the southwestern part of the state.

Firefighters in California feared hot, dry conditions across the state would create tinderbox conditions, yet crews were able to largely contain a Napa County blaze that has consumed more than 5,700 acres.

The fire has destroyed eight buildings, two of which were vacation homes on Lake Berryessa. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries.

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On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office map: http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/fire/himeadow4.jpg

Rocky Mountain Area Coordinating Group: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/fire/rmcghome.htm