Colorado wildfire forces evacuation of hundreds of homes

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – An out-of-control wildfire has charred 2,000 acres, destroyed at least one house and forced the evacuations of 336 homes in a mountain canyon west of Fort Collins, Colorado, fire officials said on Sunday.

More than 200 firefighting ground crews are battling the blaze about 65 miles northwest of Denver, Nick Christensen, spokesman for Larimer County, Colorado told reporters at a mid-morning briefing.

Wind gusts up to 90 miles per hour in the narrow canyon blew the fire up from 20 acres to 2,000 overnight as flames roared into two subdivisions, prompting the early-morning evacuations, Christensen said.

“We experienced extreme conditions last night and anticipate more structure damage,” Christensen said.

Reghan Cloudman, fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, told Reuters that the fire is “zero percent contained,” and residents of a third neighborhood are on standby for evacuation should the fire make a run in their direction.

Cloudman said that a helicopter and two air tankers are prepared to make water and fire retardant drops, but will not go airborne until fire managers assess the situation.

“Right now public and firefighter safety is the primary focus,” she said.

Most of Colorado is under a “red flag warning,” this weekend, meaning the risk for fires is high because of dry weather, low humidity and high winds.

A series of grass fires erupted along Colorado’s Front Range on Saturday, but were all contained.

The largest blaze scorched 2,000 acres in the grasslands of Weld County on the high plains of eastern Colorado.

A cold front moved into Colorado Sunday morning and National Weather Service forecasters predict rain and snow, higher humidity and lighter winds should ease the fire danger.

Christensen said the moisture is welcome, but it also is “problematic” as snow and mud could hinder firefighters’ access to the burn area.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

Colorado wildfire forces evacuation of hundreds of homes