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Blaze Near Denver Area Homes Slows but Evacuations Proceed

Fires: Shifting winds bring mixed news. Biggest outbreak grows to about 87,000 acres.

June 12, 2002|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — The capricious fire burning on the edge of Denver's southern suburbs slowed on Tuesday, but the evacuation of nervous residents continued as fire officials warned that late afternoon winds could push the blaze toward homes.

The Hayman Fire grew to about 87,000 acres and Tuesday's shifting winds brought mixed news. The fire's southern edge exploded, breaking though fire lines during the day. Fifteen subdivisions were evacuated near Lake George, about 120 miles south of Denver.

The northern end of the fire--which caused the evacuation of 6,000 homes and the potential displacement of 40,000 residents near Denver--slowed its movement toward densely populated subdivisions, although thousands remained poised to leave.

The fire was believed to have started from an illegal campfire. Authorities said Tuesday they were looking for a motorist who was spotted by a forest ranger driving quickly away from the campground where the fire began on Saturday.

Open fires are banned throughout the state. On Tuesday Wyoming joined Colorado in banning fires and fireworks on all state land.

There are seven major fires burning in Colorado, which is experiencing its worst drought on record.

A fire in Glenwood Springs west of Denver was still only 5% contained and had burned 10,500 acres. That fire, which began Saturday, destroyed 25 homes and caused the evacuation of more than 2,000 people. Authorities allowed some residents back in their homes to recover personal items, but said if they remained there, it would be at their own risk.

Another fire near Trinidad, on the New Mexico state line, grew to 29,000 acres. A nearby fire that consumed 5,700 acres was nearly under control. Officials were also concerned about a fire near Durango, in the southwest, which covered 8,300 acres and was a quarter-mile from a subdivision.

Firefighters were gaining the upper hand on a 2,200-acre fire near Grand Junction, in western Colorado, that caused some evacuations.

The state's fires drew the attention of federal officials, who toured fire sites and pledged assistance. Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, joined Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton on a tour of the Hayman Fire, led by Gov. Bill Owens.

"We've got a serious crisis right now," Owens said.

The governor noted that the state has requested federal fire assistance eight times in the last eight years.

Nine requests have already been made this year.

Sheriffs in four counties issued evacuation orders to residents in the path of the Hayman Fire, but the shifting winds made definitive plans difficult.

That was also the case for firefighters, who for a second day were not placed in front of the fire, which was deemed too dangerous.

"The tactic is to attack the flanks and get some [firefighters] at the southern end," said Randy Welch of the U.S. Forest Service.

Four air tankers and 11 helicopters were fighting the blaze, which was still out of control.

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