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Colorado's High Park fire: 2 new blazes spark concern

June 19, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson

Firefighters scrambled Tuesday to douse two new hot spots near the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, using helicopters and blasts of water to keep the new blazes from joining the large one.

The two spot fires are in steep canyons just north of Highway 14 and the Poudre River, which had been — until Tuesday — the northern-most boundaries of the 92-square-mile High Park fire. High winds and airborn embers from that raging fire near Fort Collins, Colo., sparked the new flames, officials said.

“It’s jumped,” Reghan Cloudman, a fire spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s a particular concern.”

 PHOTOS: U.S. wildfires 2012

The High Park fire, now 50% contained, continued to devour the driest areas of the Roosevelt National Forest to the west. The wind blew eastward much of Tuesday, preventing the uncontained western edge of the fire from growing too rapidly, Cloudman said.

If that were to change, flames could jump treetop to treetop, making short work of forests where up to 70% of the trees have been killed by the mountain pine bark beetle. Those “red and dead” pines, with dry needles and trunks, are particularly susceptible to fire. And after long droughts, living trees are drier than usual, officials said.

Containment costs have risen to $14.7 million, including payroll expenses for the 1,773 people fighting the fire. Officials have declared 189 homes lost.

During the third day of red-flag warnings – lower humidity, higher winds and warmer temperatures – officials issued 100 more pre-evacuation alerts in Poudre Canyon.

“We see this as kind of a 'get ready' message,” Cloudman said. “An actual evacuation order would be 'go.'  This is a chance for people to start thinking about it more seriously.”

Fires in the rugged, winding canyons west of Fort Collins sometimes burn in unique and unpredictable patterns. Crews have difficulty fighting the flames on the steep ravines that plunge toward the winding Poudre River.

More than 3,000 evacuation notices have been issued since the fire began 10 days ago. It’s hard to say how many people that translates into, Cloudman said, because there is some overlap. If families have a landline and multiple cellphones, each number receives an alert.

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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