More wind and heat could hamper Colorado wildfire fight

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 12:28pm

Forecasters are expecting warmer than normal temperatures and gusty winds Tuesday in a northern Colorado area already ravaged by a wildfire, not a good combination for the legion of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.

The High Park Fire had consumed more than 58,700 acres of woodland by Monday evening, but it was about 50% contained, authorities reported.

Tuesday's forecast by the National Weather Service is similar to Monday, a day that brought blazing heat and winds that whipped up the blaze.

But firefighters say they can handle the weather conditions because winds are expected to be less than Sunday, a day that firefighters described as "tough."

"The expected winds were not as strong as they were (Sunday). The amount of fire activity in the big timber on the western perimeter was not as extreme," Fire information officer Brett Haberstick said, according to CNN affiliate KCNC. "So therefore we have a lot less smoke and a lot better working conditions for the crews."

More than 1,700 personnel were battling the blaze.

The lightning-ignited wildfire that started on June 9 has destroyed 189 homes, and that number is expected to grow. Firefighters are also concerned that the blaze could shift toward dense stands of trees that have been killed by beetle infestations, according to InciWeb, a U.S. multiagency fire response website.

The blaze has moved through forests and neighborhoods, forcing thousands of evacuations and leaving a trail of destruction. It has claimed one life, a 62-year-old woman found dead in her burned home last week.

Elsewhere in Colorado, firefighters are battling a fire near Pagosa Springs that broke out last month. That blaze, also blamed on lightning, had grown to more than 13,000 acres by Monday night and was 30% contained.

And a new fire broke out Sunday and quickly spread to 200 acres near Pueblo, forcing some evacuations of residents.

In New Mexico, the Whitewater Baldy Fire has scorched more than 296,000 acres, the agriculture secretary said.

More than 3,200 fire personnel from across the United States are helping local departments battle the fire, which began on May 16. The blaze was 82% contained as of Monday.



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