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Wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico spread firefighters thin

June 11, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Arizona's Hopi 5 Hotshot Ian Nuvamsa, left, watches teammate Peterson Hubbard cut a burning stump while battling the Little Bear fire near Ruidoso, N.M.
Arizona's Hopi 5 Hotshot Ian Nuvamsa, left, watches teammate Peterson… (Albuquerque Journal, Adolphe…)

Wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico spread Monday, fanned by winds and intensified by drought, with the blaze in northern Colorado doubling in 24 hours.

Hundreds of firefighters and thousands of homeowners struggled to cope.

“The fuels out here are very dry. That’s the big story. It’s drought,” David Shell, a spokesman for the Little Bear firefighting crews in New Mexico, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday evening.

The Little Bear fire, near Ruidoso, N.M., has swallowed 34,561 acres in a week since a lightning strike started the blaze. The fire has been burning mixed conifer trees over steep, rugged terrain and threatening nearby towns such as Capitan.

“Everything is very dry, and some areas there are a lot of fuels per acre and areas where the forests haven’t had a fire for some time,” Shell said. “That’s sort of the story of the American West these days.”

In Colorado, the High Park fire near Fort Collins swelled from 31 square miles Sunday night to 64 square miles -- more than 40,000 acres --  by Monday evening. About 2,600 households have been notified to evacuate, officials said.  9News in Denver reported  that the fire had killed a 62-year-old woman.

Wyoming diverted personnel and aircraft from two fires there to help, the Associated Press reported.

After Colorado's congressional delegation demanded that more resources be deployed, the U.S. Forest Service said  it would add aircraft to its aerial firefighting fleet, the Associated Press reported. The Forest Service contracted for one air tanker from the state of Alaska and four from Canada. Two more air tankers were being activated in California, the Associated Press said. 

 Debra Schofield, a spokeswoman for the Colorado firefighting crews, told the Los Angeles Times that the  fire had not forced any more evacuations Monday. “That is a good sign,” she said.

Larimer County, Colo., Sheriff Justin Smith said at a Monday morning briefing that he'd heard "very bad reports up in the Rist Canyon area" of an estimated 100 structures that had been damaged or destroyed, according to the Denver Post.

Jeanne Miller, 78, who lives near the High Park fire, was watering her pasture and lawn Monday in case the blaze crossed the couple of miles of open field just west of her home, the Coloradoan reported.

“All up there, that’s just solid smoke and fire now,” Miller told the Coloradoan. “I just pray that the winds stay down. That’s what I’ve been praying all this time: Lord, keep the winds down."

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