USA — Evacuation orders were issued Monday for about 100 homes in the mountains west of Denver and people in at least 200 more homes were told to be ready to leave as two separate wildfires kept firefighters battling flames driven by 40 mph winds.
One wildfire west of Golden had charred a little more than a square mile, or 850 acres, of rugged, steep terrain, with crews periodically retreating when winds kicked up, Jefferson County sheriff’s officials said.
A grass fire of about eight acres was threatening at least 25 homes near Evergreen, roughly 20 miles southwest of Golden, while a third, smaller fire in the mountains west of Denver destroyed a structure before it was contained. Crews had contained 30 percent of the Evergreen fire by evening.
Officials suspected the blazes were human-caused. Low, single-digit humidity and dry vegetation had helped fuel the fires Monday while many areas across eastern Colorado were under red-flag warnings, meaning the fire danger was high and some counties had fire bans.
“We’ve been very dry, we have a lot of material to burn, trees and the brush,” sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said. “You have virtually no snow on the ground and we’re hitting mid-70s today with real high winds. It’s the perfect recipe for a fire disaster.”
All outside fires were banned in the unincorporated parts of Jefferson County and on federal land.
Evacuation centers were opened at a church in Golden and Evergreen High School.
A helicopter dropped load of waters throughout the day on the 700-acre fire west of Golden. About 120 firefighters had contained 15 percent of the blaze. More crews and a federal management team were expected to arrive Tuesday.
An air tanker was grounded because of communication problems. Another was en route from Idaho to drop fire retardant.
Brian Fletcher was among the residents packing belongings and leaving as a precaution.
“We smelled the fire and shortly after that, the Golden Fire Department and police were here all day. They used the fire hydrants all along the street,” said Fletcher, adding that the strong winds had him worried.
Residents in a subdivision at the base of the foothills near the Golden fire watered their lawns to prevent flying ash from igniting the dry grass. The air smelled like a camp fire, but it was a typical afternoon in other ways.
With cars packed and ready to go in case the fire spreads, children biked and rode scooters on the street while others walked their dogs.
Fire managers say wildfires are not unusual this time of year when there are winds and severe drought conditions. A wind-driven blaze scorched 622 acres west of Boulder on March 11. More than 200 homes were evacuated for a few hours, but none was damaged.
While Colorado’s mountains have gotten plentiful snow this winter, the Front Range and the foothills have been dry.
National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Koopmeiners said moisture in Denver has been below average in all but one month since mid-summer. The trend has continued into March, normally one of the state’s wettest months as passing storms usually drop rain and snow.
Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center spokesman Steve Segin said the Front Range is between the end of the winter snowfall and the spring green up, leaving dry, flammable fuels behind.
“What complicates things this time of year is a series of low pressure systems and cold fronts coming through,” Segin said. “They really kick up the winds and they’re not bringing a whole lot of precipitation with them.”
Three small fires in southern Colorado on the plains east of Pueblo were contained quickly Monday but not before one burned some corrals.