Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado: More homes evacuated in Western wildfires

By Ivan Moreno

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 11:58 a.m. MDT

A couple watch as a wildfire burns near Pine, Colo., on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. A new wildfire in the foothills southwest of Denver forced the evacuation of dozens of homes Wednesday as hot and windy conditions in much of Colorado and elsewhere in the West made it easy for fires to start and spread.

Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

EVERGREEN, Colo. — Firefighters attacked dozens of blazes in Western states where hot and windy conditions persisted Thursday, including two blazes that forced hundreds of people out of their homes in Colorado.

Air and ground crews resumed work against a 500-acre fire in the Rocky Mountain foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver that impacted more than 100 people. The Lime Gulch Fire, possibly triggered by lightning, threatened no structures in Pike National Forest.

In southern Colorado, a 300-acre fire in Huerfano County forced at least 175 people to stay at a Red Cross shelter at a high school.

In Arizona, firefighters braced for more hot, windy weather Thursday as they battled a wildfire in Prescott National Forest that scorched nearly 12 square miles. The blaze erupted Tuesday afternoon and led to the evacuation of 460 homes.

To the north, smoke from another fire that broke out Wednesday was visible from Grand Canyon National Park. No structures were immediately threatened.

A blaze in southern New Mexico's Gila National Forest has grown to 57 square miles just as firefighters finish setting up protections around a nearby historic mining town.

In Northern California, hundreds of residents returned home as crews aided by lower temperatures and higher humidity extended their lines around a wildfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park. Only about 50 homes on two mountain roads remained under evacuation orders, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The fire, sparked Sunday by a campfire that wasn't fully put out, led to the evacuation of about 800 homes at its peak.

In Southern California, a nearly 6-square-mile fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was 83 percent contained.

The fire near Denver was burning in steep, heavily forested mountain terrain, south of where last year's Lower North Fork Fire damaged and destroyed 23 homes and killed three people. That fire was triggered by a prescribed burn that escaped containment lines.

Some residents said they were ready to leave in minutes, having practiced fire evacuations after the Lower North Fork Fire.

Karalyn Pytel was at home vacuuming when her husband called, saying he had received an alert on his cellphone telling the family to leave. She quickly grabbed her 6-year-old daughter's favorite blanket, a laptop computer, a jewelry box and some family heirlooms before fleeing.

"I grabbed a laundry basket and just threw stuff in it. I don't even know what clothes they are," Pytel said as she arrived at an evacuation center.

Firefighters were aided by two U.S. Air Force Reserve C-130s.

The planes also were used at a 22-square-mile wildfire near Colorado Springs that has destroyed 509 homes and killed two people since it started June 11.

In southwestern Colorado, two backcountry fires started by lightning last week and fueled by large swaths of beetle-killed trees swelled in Wednesday's heat and wind.

The largest, the West Fork Fire, nearly tripled in size to nearly 19 square miles, while the 700-acre Windy Pass Fire grew to within a quarter-mile of buildings on the south side of the Wolf Creek Ski Area. Firefighters have largely let the fires burn but were working to keep them away from the ski resort now that the area burning has fewer dead trees and some open spaces, fire spokeswoman Anne Jeffery said Thursday.

Some summer cabins are threatened by the fire, but no communities were in immediate danger.

In Colorado's northwest corner, an 850-acre wildfire in Rio Blanco County forced Encana Corp. to shut down oil and gas facilities, the Bureau of Land Management said. Firefighters protecting buildings at an Encana station spotted embers up to a half-mile away from the blaze.

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