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Colorado residents who fled wildfire returning home

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2011 5:35 PM
Colorado residents who fled wildfire returning home

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Evacuations were lifted on Friday for thousands of homeowners who fled a wind-stoked wildfire southeast of Denver, but fire managers warned much of eastern Colorado remains at high risk for wildfires because of drought-like conditions.

The Burning Tree fire near Franktown, Colorado blackened 1,600 acres on Thursday, prompting authorities to order 9,500 homes in the area evacuated.

A quick aerial and ground assault brought the flames under control, and the fire is 95 percent contained, allowing residents to return home, said Deputy Michelle Rademacher of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities asked residents in some areas of the burn area not to move their livestock back because of lingering smoke and high winds that could cause a flare-up, she said.

Evacuees should be ready to leave their homes within 10 minutes should the winds kick up embers that could ignite dry grasses and brush, Rademacher said.

"Because of the windy conditions expected today (Friday), residents ... are asked to be prepared to evacuate if necessary," she said.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) warned that fire potential is "significant" across eastern New Mexico, west Texas and eastern Colorado because of the dry conditions and high winds.

The National Weather Service issued a "red flag warning" on Friday for eastern Colorado due to "strong winds, low humidity and dry fuels."

Two fast-moving grass fires in rural southeast Colorado on Thursday burned 17,000 acres in the warning area.

Near Karval Colorado, a wind-driven blaze destroyed two county bridges, three vehicles, and a barn, Capt. Clint Tweder of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, told Reuters.

The town's 200 residents were put on evacuation standby as flames approached the outskirts of the farming community. Shifting winds blew the fire away from the town, and firefighters brought the fire under control before mandatory evacuations were ordered, Tweder said.

At the Pueblo Army Depot, a grass fire consumed 5,000 acres before it was contained Thursday afternoon, Chuck Sprague, the depot's public information officer, said.

One shed on the site was destroyed, but there were no injuries and the flames did not threaten any of the complex's permanent structures, he said.

A lack of late winter and early spring moisture in Colorado east of the Continental Divide is similar to conditions in 2002, when the largest wildfire in Colorado history burned 138,000 acres in the Pike National Forest, according to the national fire center.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)