Reinforcements called in to battle Colorado wildfire

Reinforcements called in to battle Colorado wildfire

19 May 2012

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USA — Authorities say the Hewlett Fire northwest of Fort Collins is now 11% contained, and that no new evacuations are imminent. Still, they warn changing weather conditions could kick the fire higher as the day goes on.

The 7,636-acre wildfire is putting off heavier smoke and is more active as the day warms. Fire officials say they have already spent $1.2 million fighting the blaze. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday declared an emergency, freeing up $3 million in state money to fund firefighting efforts.

The winds are picking up in the area of the fire, and officials say that while the fire’s intensity is expected to increase, it isn’t currently threatening any homes. Fifteen homes in the Poudre Canyon were evacuated on Thursday afternoon, and residents have not yet been allowed to return.

“We’re worried about all the residents near the fire, but no evacuations are imminent,” says fire spokesman Greg Heule.

The blaze was one of several burning in the West. A fire in northern Arizona that led to the evacuation of a historic mining town grew to more than 12 square miles even as the outlook improved from earlier in the week.

Firefighters on Thursday set several back burns, which tend to burn with lower intensity and can help slow or stop the spread of the main fire. Those burns were conducted in areas where homes were evacuated.

Heule says five helicopters and at least one airplane tanker are available to battle the flames today, along with almost 500 firefighters on the ground.

Authorities say the fire appears to have been caused by accident. It began Monday near the start of a popular hiking and mountain-biking trail.

Heule says parts of the fire have entered an area burned previously by the Picnic Rock Fire, which means there are fewer large trees to consume. But other areas of the fire are burning in heavily forested ridges and gullies, which he says could send thick, black smoke into the air.

Dry thunderstorms are forecast for this afternoon, potentially bringing high winds but little rain.

“It’s all terrain-, fuels- and weather-dependent,” Heule says.

The fire is burning about 80 miles northwest of Denver, and smoke from the fire is already drifting almost 45 miles south.

In Arizona, Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Fidler said that crews were focusing on slowing the advance of the near 8,200-acre blaze and preventing it from reaching communication towers.

Most of the 350 residents of the mountain community of Crown King, about 85 miles north of Phoenix, had already cleared out Thursday.

Other fires dotted Arizona but did not threaten any structures, authorities said.

Meanwhile, separate blazes in northern and southern New Mexico cast a haze of smoke over the state but have not caused property damage or prompted evacuations, authorities said.

A wind-fueled fire in western Utah temporarily closed a state highway Thursday evening, but wasn’t threatening any structures.

In California, firefighters are working to control a 100-acre blaze that burned across the border into San Diego County from Mexico, where it has scorched thousands of acres.

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