DENVER The biggest fire in Colorado’s history raged through parts of four counties south of Denver Tuesday, prompting the evacuation of thousands more residents amid fears that winds could further whip up the blaze.
The Hayman fire, about 55 miles southwest of Denver, grew during the day to 85,000 acres plus from 77,000 acres earlier in the day. “It’s very hot and really moving,” said Pam DeVore, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. Flames shot up in the air from treetops and embers flew as big white plumes of smoke hung over a scenic area of Pike National Forest that normally is teeming with visitors camping and sightseeing. “We’re at the mercy of the winds,” said Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone. The blaze, which has marked a frighteningly early start to the U.S. summer fire season, was the largest in the state’s history, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said. The prior record had been a 17,000-acre fire, he told reporters. So far this year, nearly 1.4 million acres have burned across the United States, up from 1.2 million acres this time in 2000 one of the worst years in recent memory, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. DeVore said residents of 10 subdivisions in Teller County had been told to evacuate. Residents in 15 subdivisions or small towns in neighboring Jefferson and Douglas counties also have been packing up photographs, business papers, and other valuables and getting on the road before the flames get too close. Horse trucks were spotted on the road, ready to move out carrying the animals. Officials said they were most worried about the northeast head of the fire, which was burning through dry, mountainous forest land toward another area of small towns.
FEDERAL HELP PROMISED
As Colorado struggled to come to grips with the ferocity of the blaze, which started Saturday with sparks from what authorities said was an illegal campfire, President Bush offered federal assistance in a call Tuesday to Owens, the White House said. “The federal government is making the resources available to help. The president said if there’s anything you need, let us know,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters on an Air Force One flight carrying Bush from Washington on a day trip to Kansas City. Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is in Colorado, and Interior Secretary Gale Norton was on the way, Fleischer added. Crews put out three small fires that someone had started intentionally on a country road in Jefferson County. Police asked witnesses to call if they saw anything suspicious. Sgt. Attila Denes of the Douglas County sheriff’s office said it was “very likely” residents between Perry Park and Roxborough, south of Denver and just west of Interstate 25, would have to leave their homes. On Monday, officials said as many as 30,000 people might have to be evacuated ahead of the flames. But calmer winds overnight helped shift the fire away from the most heavily populated areas. About 6,000 homes in Douglas and neighboring Jefferson County were evacuated Monday. Jim Shires of the Jefferson County sheriff’s office said an automatic calling system reached 2,400 homes, suggesting people between the towns of Pine and Conifer evacuate. Stone drove to a campground where glowing chunks of charcoal that had once been trees were tumbling down a mountain onto a closed road. Towns like Deckers that already have been evacuated looked like ghost towns, except for an occasional fire crew and sheriff’s deputies patrolling the area. The Hayman blaze was one of six major fires burning in the state. The Coal Seam fire in West Glenwood Springs in western Colorado grew to 10,500 acres. The Missionary Ridge fire, just north of Durango, grew to 8,200 acres and was 5 percent contained.