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Wildfire forces evacuation of 100 Colo. homes

March 23, 2011

msnbc.com

GOLDEN, Colo. — About 100 homes in the foothills west of Denver remained under evacuation orders and hundreds more were on standby as strong winds helped spread a wildfire scorching nearly 2 square miles of drought-stricken brush, trees and grasses.

The fire has already blackened about 1,200 acres west of Golden, in Jefferson County, and officials said it was 15 percent contained Tuesday.

A light dusting of snow fell on the tops of the hills overnight, but the weather has been mostly working against firefighters in the steep, rugged terrain about 15 miles from downtown Denver.

More strong winds are in the forecast, with gusts as high as 75 mph expected later in the day.

Federal authorities were set to arrive Tuesday to lead the effort against the fire, which started Sunday and was fanned by winds.

The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center — a federal agency that coordinates firefighting in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming — said it was organizing to be ready to attack new fires that may start.

Recipe for ‘fire disaster’
Residents west of Golden fled in cars and trucks Monday, some pulling horse trailers. Many of them, including Brian Fletcher, had packed up belongings in preparation.

“We smelled the fire and shortly after that, the Golden Fire Department and police were here all day. They used the fire hydrants all along the street,” said Fletcher, adding that he was worried about the wind.

In a subdivision at the base of the foothills near the fire, residents watered lawns to prevent flying ash from igniting the dry grass. The air smelled like a camp fire.

“We’ve been very dry, we have a lot of material to burn, trees and the brush,” county sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said Monday. “You have virtually no snow on the ground, and we’re hitting mid-70s today with real high winds. It’s the perfect recipe for a fire disaster.”

A smaller, 10-acre fire southwest of Golden was contained Monday, allowing the residents of 25 evacuated homes to return. A third fire in the mountains of the county burned at least one structure before it was contained.

Fire managers say wildfires are not unusual this time of year, when there are severe drought conditions. Officials suspected the blazes were human-caused.

A wind-driven blaze scorched 622 acres west of Boulder on March 11. More than 200 homes were evacuated for a few hours, but none was damaged.

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