Wind Sends Colo. Fire Toward Houses

Thursday, June 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DRAKE, Colo. (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire raced toward houses east of Rocky Mountain National Park on Thursday, prompting authorities to evacuate firefighters and residents who had been allowed into the area to check their homes.

Authorities sent fire trucks into the region to help move people out of the fire's way, said Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Gordon.

``The fire is making a very fast run,'' she said.

Winds, with gusts of up to 60 mph, also caused problems for firefighters struggling to hold the lines on a second, out-of-control fire burning about 35 miles southwest of Denver.

National Weather Service forecasts called for gusts to peak at 90 mph before a cold front was to arrive Thursday night, bringing moist, cool air.

It was the fourth consecutive day weary firefighters have worked on the two blazes, which have burned about 13,000 acres overall and destroyed nearly 50 structures, primarily homes.

Earlier in the day, authorities allowed residents to return to homes in the ranching and farming area near the park so they could assess damage and pick up belongings, Gordon said.

They were ordered out at midmorning when winds turned the fire from a mostly inaccessible area of steep, rugged terrain toward the inhabited area, she said.

At the fire southwest of Denver, deputy incident commander Jim Krugman said it was unusually windy for so early in the day.

``That, in itself, can create erratic fire behavior, a shift in the way the fire moves,'' he said. ``Both for personal safety and progress of the fire, the winds are probably our most serious issue.''

Some of the 500 firefighters near the national park worked through the night trying to protect about 200 homes. Firefighters at the blaze southwest of Denver, burning near a dozen tiny subdivisions, were pulled off the lines to prepare for the worst.

``We want to put fresh, rested crews on the fire,'' said Karen Miranda Gleason, a spokeswoman for the fire management team. ``We think that's the best chance we have of preventing any spread.''

That lightening-sparked blaze near Bailey has burned 6,700 acres and destroyed 36 homes scattered through subdivisions built into the steep mountainsides. It was only 10 percent contained Wednesday night, disappointing fire managers, who had hoped for 25 percent containment.

More than 800 people have been evacuated, not including residents of three rural communities that were evacuated Wednesday night.

Many evacuees watched from ridges and roads as planes and helicopters tried to douse the flames.

The fire near here, in the tree-lined canyons east of the national park, had burned 6,700 acres and at least 12 buildings by Wednesday night. The blaze was started by a campfire.

Record-breaking heat that started in May and a lack of rain have created tinderbox conditions across the country.

Elsewhere, a 1,000-acre fire in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico caused a power failure in Tucson, Ariz., 150 miles to the southwest, for about an hour Wednesday.

Tucson Power Co. lines were near flames and the company had to reroute power through other lines, fire information officer Robin Murray said. The fire flared up Wednesday; the cause was under investigation.

Firefighters gained ground against two other fires that had burned 1,600 acres in New Mexico, while in Northern California, a fire pushed by gusty wind and triple-digit temperatures had burned through 5,700 acres in the Napa Valley. Two summer homes were destroyed.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center:

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office map:

Rocky Mountain Area Coordinating Group: