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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hundreds flee wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico

With high fire danger across much of the state, other wildfires, in addition to the massive High Park fire in Larimer County, forced evacuations and road closures.

Eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 were closed early this evening because of a 3-acre wildfire that burned briefly along the road a mile east of Wolcott, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The route was closed at 7:13 p.m. No information about how the fire started or when the interstate will reopen was available.

A small grass fire has destroyed at least four outbuildings and at least one vehicle near Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 7 in Erie earlier today.

Also earlier today a 3-acre wildfire in Eagle was put out after it threatened multiple mobile homes and toppled trees.

A 60-acre fire in Delta County was contained today after it prompted evacuations near Cedaredge on the south slope of the Grand Mesa.

The High Park fire erupted on a day with high fire danger from single-digit relative humidity, gusty winds and drought-parched landscapes across much of the state.

Most of the state west of the Front Range, as well as the central Eastern Plains, was under a critical "red flag" fire danger Saturday, with record or near-record temperatures in some locations.

Gusty winds are expected to persist through today across much of the state, and the humidity might rise to only about 15 percent, according to the National Weather Service.

An approaching cold front will assist firefighters in Larimer County and potentially reduce fire risks.

In Colorado, the fire sent up heavy smoke, obscuring the sun and creating an eerie, orange dusk in the middle of the day. The smell drifted into the Denver area and smoke spread as far as central Nebraska, western Kansas and Texas.

The latest New Mexico blaze is smaller than the Whitewater-Baldy fire — the largest in the state's history — but more worrisome to authorities because it started closer to homes, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. He said the number of Ruidoso evacuees was in the hundreds.

Elsewhere Sunday, firefighters were battling a wildfire that blackened 6 square miles in Wyoming's Guernsey State Park and forced the evacuation of 500 to 1,000 campers and visitors. Cooler weather was helping firefighters in their battle against two other wildfires in southern Utah.

In Colorado, authorities sent nearly 1,800 evacuation notices to phone numbers but it wasn't clear how many residents had to leave.

Authorities say it's the worst fire in Larimer County in about 25 years. It spread as fast as 11/2 mph Saturday, skipping over some areas but burning intensely in trees in others.

The blaze forced the evacuation of 11 wolves from a sanctuary. KUSA-TV in Denver reported that 19 wolves remained at the sanctuary, which has underground concrete bunkers known as "fire dens" that can be used by the animals.

The speed of the fire's spread has dashed any hope of containment for the time being.

"These folks are doing everything they can," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said, "but Mother Nature is running this fire."
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