Wildfires Burn Homes in Colorado

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PINE JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Driven by wind and feeding on tinderbox conditions, a fire raged out of control in the pine-covered Colorado foothills early Tuesday after forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes.

Nearly 180 girls and employees at a Girl Scout camp were cleared out as a precaution and authorities ordered 300 to 400 people out of the area near Bailey, about 35 miles southwest of Denver. At least 10 houses had burned.

The Hi Meadow fire covered some 3,500 acres Tuesday. It exploded in just a few hours Monday as winds of more than 20 mph pushed flames from tree top to tree top, leaving many in the scattered mountain neighborhoods with little time to gather their belongings.

The flames drew within 50 yards of David Wortman as he and his wife loaded their horses into a trailer, hitched it to their pickup and fled with their dog. They could feel the heat inside the truck.

``Once I saw the flames that close, we had to get out,'' he said. ``I couldn't stand between my house and the flames, it was that hot.''

Firefighters were ordered to protect buildings first and think about containment second, said Doug Lee, a spokesman for a multiagency fire management group.

Through the night, the flames moved below the crowns of the trees, allowing ground crews to begin working on containment, night incident commander Brad Ruder said. He said a cold front that moved through the area at midnight helped calm the blaze.

North of Denver, a second fire near a subdivision in the mountains west of Loveland had burned at least two homes and threatened as many as 200 others, authorities said.

With much of the nation facing drought conditions and the heart of the fire season ahead, the Colorado fires were the most damaging of those burning across a number of Western states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah. Smoke from both blazes hung over parts of the Denver metropolitan area. No injuries were reported.

The nation is seeing the worst start of a fire season since 1996, the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho said Monday.

The season began more than a month ago with blazes engulfing areas of Florida and the Southwest, most notably in Los Alamos, N.M. By Monday, some 44,300 fires covering more than 1.2 million acres had been recorded nationwide — and drought conditions already well known in the Southeast and Southwest are growing worse in the West.

Some 300 firefighters were at work on the Colorado fires and another 200 were expected to arrive Tuesday. The number of burned homes near Bailey was expected to rise. Authorities described flames jetting from exposed natural gas pipes.

The fire was moving away from the Flying G camp, but officials evacuated 140 girls and 38 staffers as a precaution, said Rachelle Trujillo, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts' Mile High Council.

There were no immediate plans to evacuate 84 girls from a second camp 10 miles west of the fire, she said.

Near Loveland, high winds fanned the Bobcat Fire from 40 acres to more than 2,000 acres on Monday. About 150 people had been forced out of their homes, said Bob Skillman, Loveland Fire and Rescue division chief.

The fire was burning in pine and fir trees near Storm Mountain, said Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Gordon.

Red Cross shelters were set up near both fires.

``There's a lot of tension in both the shelters,'' Red Cross spokesman Matt Bertram said. ``There will be no good night's sleep here tonight.''


On the Net: National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov