Colorado firefighters get break from hot weather

AP News
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Posted: Jun 20, 2012 7:08 PM
Colorado firefighters get break from hot weather

BELLVUE, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters took advantage of a break in the heat Wednesday to ramp up their attack against wildfire burning on more than 100 square miles in northern Colorado.

"Mother Nature has allowed us this window, and we have responded very aggressively," said Brett Haberstick, a spokesman for fire managers.

After three straight days of gusty winds and temperatures in the 90s, temperatures were about 20 degrees cooler.

"We've been patient through those red flag conditions. Today we're going to be aggressive," said Bill Hahnenberg, who is leading the fight against the 65,738-acre fire west of Fort Collins.

Four single-engine firefighting aircraft were grounded briefly after possible meteor was seen in the sky. The Colorado sighting corresponded with reports of a possible meteorite filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., said meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said he had no reports of a meteorite or any disruptions to commercial airline traffic. The firefighting planes were quickly returned to service.

Firefighters were working on extending containment lines around the fire but also focusing on protecting homes in unburned pockets of land within the perimeter. Some residents were also being allowed back to their homes, but hundreds remained evacuated.

Conditions are also better at a wildfire burning on nearly 2 square miles near Lake George, which is 23 percent contained.

A fire that broke out Tuesday in northwestern Colorado spread to about 3 square miles, or 2,000 acres, forcing some evacuations in a subdivision, but residents were able to return that night. Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said the fire is believed to have started from a cigarette thrown from a vehicle.

The largest Colorado blaze west of Fort Collins was 55 percent contained and has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. Hahnenberg said it could be weeks or even months before it's finally controlled.

In Arizona, dense smoke from a wildfire near Payson prompted a health watch in the Phoenix area. Residents were asked to avoid using gas-powered lawn mowers and to limit driving or carpool.

Meanwhile, a 300-acre fire near Sequoia National Park in California is 35 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service officials said Wednesday.

Two hundred firefighters are battling the blaze on the northwest side of Lake Isabella and 200 more are on their way, said Forest Service spokeswoman Cindy Thill.

About 160 structures, including homes and cabins, and a campground near the park have been evacuated.

No structures have burned and no injuries have been reported, Thill said.

Residents in San Diego County, meanwhile, have been allowed to home near a 995-acre fire. Full containment was expected Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Elsewhere:

— In Wyoming, nearly 300 firefighters are battling a wildfire burning in remote and mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest that has burned about 4 square miles since Sunday. An 800-acre wildfire that began Tuesday in Wyoming and crossed over into Colorado is 90 percent contained.

— In New Mexico, a fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses in southern New Mexico was 60 percent contained. A fire in the Gila Wilderness, the largest in state history, is at 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.

— In Arizona, the wildfire causing haze in Phoenix made a rapid run to the east, spreading under twin transmission lines that send power to the state's major metropolitan areas. Firefighters were reinforcing containment lines to the north Wednesday to keep the blaze from reaching two small communities about three miles away. It's 8,100 acres, up from 3,700 on Tuesday.

— In Nevada, a 10,000-acre wildfire north of Ely was 15 percent contained.

— In Hawaii, the largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 4,000 acres on the Big Island. Two separate fires have been burning there since Monday. One came dangerously close to a hospital and forced the closure of its emergency room. A 6-acre fire in Maui that damaged three homes was contained late Tuesday.