Wildfires destroy homes and force more evacuations across western US states
Hot, dry conditions are expected, raising fears that blazes across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and California will spread
Wildfires continue to rip through the western states, forcing thousands of Colorado residents from their homes and scorching areas across Utah, New Mexico and California.
Hot, dry and gusty conditions are expected to continue throughout Sunday, fuelling a number of fires that have erupted over the last few days.
At least seven wildfires are now burning across Colorado, where officials have been challenged by one of the most severe wildfire seasons in recent memory.
The larger of the two new fires Saturday was the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, which flared up around noon.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reported early Sunday that the 5,000 residents of Manitou Springs, just several miles west of Colorado Springs, were ordered to evacuate.
Evacuation orders also had been in place on the west side of Colorado Springs and in the towns of Cascade and Ute Pass.
In some neighborhoods, Colorado Springs police cruisers rolled down streets, issuing the order to leave through a loudspeaker.
“Colorado Springs police department,” an officer said. “This is a mandatory evacuation notice. Evacuate now.”
Hundreds of other residents were under voluntary evacuation orders and have been packing up, the newspaper reported.
The fire was zero percent contained, but no structures had been claimed by the fire, and homes in Colorado Springs or Manitou Springs were not immediately threatened, authorities said.
Fire officials in the two towns said the evacuations were in place as a precaution.
“We’re looking around 10, 11 o’clock in the morning. The temperatures are going to start going up, the humidity is going to start going down. That’s when fires can change their behavior dramatically,” said the Rev David Hunting, the Manitou Springs fire department’s chaplain and public information officer.
Meanwhile, crews near the mountain community of Estes Park were mopping up after the Woodland Heights fire that also sparked Saturday destroyed 21 structures.
The Denver Post reports investigators are determining whether the fire started in a cabin before spreading or started as a wildfire before moving toward the homes.
The fire was attacked quickly by air and ground crews.
“Even though we lost 21 (structures), which is a huge tragedy, we saved many homes because of firefighters’ efforts,” the Post reported Estes Park Fire Chief Scott Dorman as telling evacuees.
Firefighters contending with the largest and most expensive fire in Colorado history gave up some ground before the weekend. Crews stationed near threatened homes Friday had to retreat for their safety, and containment slipped from 60 percent to 45 percent.
The fire near Fort Collins has scorched more than 118 square miles and destroyed at least 191 homes.
Heat that set back firefighting efforts Saturday are expected to continue Sunday, with the national weather service forecasting temperatures nearing 100 degrees throughout much of the state.
Elsewhere in the west, firefighters made progress against wildfires in Utah, New Mexico and California.
In Utah, about 2,300 Utah wildfire evacuees were allowed to return to their homes Saturday evening after officials determined the blaze no longer posed a threat to them.
The decision came after the fire had burned Friday within a quarter mile of some homes in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby said.
The fire that officials believe was started Thursday by target shooters was 30 percent contained Saturday evening, with full containment expected by Tuesday.
Crews also were battling a 16,500-acre brush fire on high desert near the town of Delta in central Utah.
In California, a wildfire that broke out about 60 miles north of Los Angeles has triggered evacuations of campgrounds around an off-road recreation area.
The Ventura County fire department says the fire was reported shortly after noon Saturday near the Hungry Valley State vehicular recreation area. It has burned at least 400 acres. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Hungry Valley is located along the Interstate 5 corridor, in Gorman.
In New Mexico, a lightning-caused wildfire that destroyed 242 homes and businesses is 90 percent contained after crews got a break in the weather.
Heavy rain Friday helped crews increase containment lines on the 69-square-mile fire near Ruidoso that began June 4.
Meanwhile, the more than 464-square-mile Whitewater-Baldy blaze, the largest in state history, is 87 percent contained. It began May 16 as two lightning-caused blazes that merged to form one fire