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Colorado wildfire rages: Lightning threatens; residents wait

June 11, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Colorado's Larimer County blaze rages on as residents wait to hear news of their homes.
Colorado's Larimer County blaze rages on as residents wait to hear… (Ed Andrieski / Associated…)

Residents of northern Colorado's Front Range area are used to wildfires, especially at this time of year, but Larimer County's High Park fire is proving to be particularly fierce -- fast-moving, unpredictable and voracious.

"With very dry conditions, a lot of winds and with the lightning, it's just a tinder box waiting to go up," Jon Schulz, public information officer for the Larimer County Sheriff's Department, said in an interview today with the Los Angeles Times.

The blaze is being called the worst fire in the county in 25 years, reportedly having grown to nearly 60 square miles. And tonight, things could get worse.

Schulz said the area was under a cloak of heavy smoke but that temperatures had cooled and there was a possibility of evening thunderstorms. In that part of the country, however, thunderstorms don't always mean rain. Lightning sparked the current fire, and any storm could bring additional lightning and the possibility of more flames.

Residents received 2,600 notices of mandatory evacuation over the weekend. Many of them left, Schulz said, although "a few people" resisted, choosing to remain in their homes -- to the chagrin of officials.

"It becomes an issue because they really put lives in jeopardy -- this fire is so unpredictable and moving so quickly," he said.

More evacuation notices were expected to be sent out today, Micki Trost, public information officer with the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, told The Times. 

The number of burned structures officially stands at 18, "but we know there are many more than that," Schulz said. "We just can't get back in some of those areas."

It's uncertain how many of those structures were homes, Schulz said. Because the fire has been unpredictable, hop-scotching some areas, "residents shouldn't assume their home is lost."

Assessment and recovery teams were preparing to venture into burned areas this morning, Schulz said, to begin to get a handle on the extent of the damage.

The fire is the third recent blaze in the drought-stricken Front Range. A May fire sparked by a camper's stove burned 12 square miles north of the Poudre Canyon area, Schulz said. And a fire in nearby Jefferson County, triggered by a prescribed burn that spiraled out of control, killed three people and burned more than two dozen homes.

Although residents of Larimer County are used to the threat of wildfires, it's still hard to take. "They're doing as well as can be expected," Schulz said. "Obviously it's frustrating ... to have to leave things behind and not know whether their homes are still there."

A wildfire burning in New Mexico had reached 42 square miles as of Monday morning, according to the Associated Press. That blaze had damaged or destroyed 35 structures since Friday. That fire was burning near the mountain community of Ruidoso in the southern part of the state.

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