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Wildfires claim 189 homes in Colorado

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POSTED June 18, 2012 8:29 p.m.


 

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters faced dangerous conditions across much of the Rocky Mountain region Monday, as they toiled in hot, dry weather to battle a wildfire that has charred nearly 92 square miles in northern Colorado.

Authorities said they determined eight more homes have burned in the fire near Fort Collins. The blaze started June 9 and now has destroyed at least 189 homes — the most in the state's history. The fire is 50 percent contained.

The wind was relatively calm Monday, despite forecasts of gusts of up to 50 mph, fire information officer Brett Haberstick said. Temperatures, however, were in the mid-90s, and the relative humidity was extremely low at 3 to 5 percent, he said.

Other wildfires were burning in warm, arid weather from Wyoming to Arizona to Southern California, where a blaze that prompted the evacuation of at least 150 homes was 30 percent contained Monday.

Fire officials warned that the 907-acre fire in eastern San Diego County still threatens 200 houses, sheds and other buildings. The fire has destroyed at least one home.

In Colorado, another fire that started Sunday in the foothills west of Colorado Springs prompted evacuations of cabins, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area.

That fire has burned about 1 1/2 square miles, and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry conditions. Authorities hadn't listed a containment figure by Monday.

Meanwhile, a fire near Pagosa Springs in the southwestern part of the state grew to nearly 19 square miles and was 30 percent contained.

As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.

On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff's department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.

His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.

Jeff Corum, whose home burned on the first day of the northern Colorado fire, described whirling, unpredictable winds that drove the blaze.

"That's what it's been doing, back and forth," Corum said. "It's just like a washing machine, and it's just rolling up there, and that's the way the mountains are."

Corum grabbed some clothing and two weapons when he fled, but not his credit cards. He's spent a few nights in a motel, some at a Red Cross evacuation center and some in his truck.

The fire also is forcing wildlife to flee the flames. A moose seeking shelter in Fort Collins is back in the wild after swimming across Horsetooth Reservoir, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.

Wildlife officials tranquilized the moose, blindfolded it and moved it to an area away from the fire. City officials say they're expecting more wild animals than usual because of the fire.

On Monday, Rocky Mountain National Park enacted a ban on all campfires because of the threat of wildfires in Colorado. The park normally allows campfires in designated fire rings, but the ban will prohibit those, as well as charcoal grilling, for the first time since September 2010.

Authorities also are trying to enforce a ban on using private fireworks in Colorado.

 

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