Albuquerque Journal, Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Associated Press
LOVELAND, Colo. — Jan Gueswel describes a harrowing escape from her Colorado mountain home: flames stretching 200 feet into the air towering over the lone road out. But she swears she'd never live anywhere else.
"I would rather live in Poudre Park than in an apartment where I don't know what my neighbor is doing," said Gueswel, who fled her home with her husband, Carl, as northern Colorado's High Park Fire exploded.
With the 73-square-mile blaze 10 percent contained, Gueswel and hundreds of other residents face extended displacement and uncertainty. They don't know if their homes still stand. But some said Tuesday they'd long ago accepted the year-round risks of fire in mountain country.
"You move out east, you got the tornadoes. You live in the mountains, you got the fires," said Denise Haines, whose family loaded up 142 alpacas and llamas from their mountain farm and took them to the Larimer County Fairgrounds.
Many residents in the mountains of southern New Mexico faced heartbreak: A 56-square-mile fire threatening the village of Ruidoso damaged or destroyed at least 224 homes and other structures. Workers found heaps of burned metal and debris on home sites hit hardest by the Little Bear fire.
"It's truly heartbreaking to see the damage done to this beautiful part of the country," New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said.
With at least 19 large fires burning in nine states, President Barack Obama called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to assure him that the federal government was ready to provide personnel, equipment and emergency grants for states battling fire. Obama tried to reach Martinez, but her office said poor reception in the fire zone kept the two from connecting.
A 62-year-old woman perished in her cabin in Colorado's High Park Fire, which was caused by lightning and has destroyed more than 100 structures. More than 600 firefighters labored to build containment lines as air tankers and helicopters focused on protecting buildings.
Gueswel expressed her gratitude.
"I don't want anybody to die for my house," she said. "I love my house, but I don't want to die for it and I don't want anyone else to die for it."
In Wyoming, where crews made gains on two wildfires, state forester Bill Crapser said firefighters throughout the West are coping with drought, stands of trees killed by bark beetles, more residents in forested areas and a decades-old buildup of fuel — the legacy of quickly stamping out fires, rather than letting them burn as nature intended.
Forest residents need to do their part by clearing their property of fuel, he said.
"That's a tough thing to sell to a lot of people, because they move out there so they can have pine trees leaning over the top of their house," Crapser said. "That's part of the allure of it. But it's also part of the danger of it."
Across the West:
— California: A wildfire that briefly threatened homes in Kern County was contained.
— Colorado: About 800 firefighters and 100 engines were at the High Park Fire on Wednesday. It has cost $3 million to fight.
— New Mexico: Nearly 1,000 firefighters and more than 200 National Guardsmen on the 56-square-mile Little Bear fire. Containment is 35 percent. More than 500 firefighters bolstered lines around the Gila fire, the country's largest at 438 square miles.
— Utah: Two wildfires blackened 4,000 acres in Fishlake National Forest in southern Utah.
— Wyoming: A 4-square-mile blaze at Guernsey State Park is 80 percent contained. Firefighters neared full containment of a 13-square-mile fire in Medicine Bow National Forest.
Associated Press writers Juan Carlos Llorca in Ruidoso, N.M.; Bob Moen and Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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