Colorado governor bans open flames after weekend fires
DENVER – Warm, dry weather has left parts of Colorado at risk of wildfires unusually early this year, forcing Gov. Bill Owens to ban open fires on state land after flames scorched thousands of acres over the weekend.Meanwhile, the district attorney in Huerfano and Las Animas counties called Monday for a criminal investigation of a wildfire there that has charred 4,500 acres.”As far as the fire danger is concerned, this is not January. This is July,” said Owens, who also urged county commissioners to consider local bans. His declaration covers all state-owned land below 8,000 feet.About 40 residents of Aguilar were evacuated Sunday when a fire neared the outskirts of the town about 160 miles south of Denver. Authorities, unsure at first how many homes were destroyed, said Monday firefighters confirmed five were destroyed, along with 10 outbuildings, such as sheds. They also reduced the acreage from 5,000 acres to 4,500 acres, fire information officer Ralph Bellah said.Bellah said 25 residents still out of their homes late Monday might be allowed back home Tuesday. The fire was 40 percent contained, though 6 inches of snow dampened the danger.Authorities have said the fire was human-caused and may have started ina “slash pile” of cut limbs and trees.Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman told the Rocky Mountain News in Tuesday’s editions that a the owner of the slash pile has been identified but has not yet been contactaced by authorities.”The DA’s office has asked the sheriff to look into it,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Wiese told the newspaper. “But right now, the sheriff’s main concern is getting the fire out.”Owens declared a disaster emergency in Las Animas and Huerfano counties, making them eligible for state aid. He said he would propose setting aside $2 million to $3 million a year for firefighting in his State of the State address Thursday.A 300-acre fire that threatened homes and forced evacuations near Carter Lake in northern Colorado Sunday was brought under control early Monday, allowing residents to return home.Drought-like conditions and gusty winds have fueled wildfires over the past few weeks in parts of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. They have destroyed at least 475 homes and killed five people in parched areas of those three states.January wildfires aren’t uncommon in Colorado, but the two weekend fires were unusually big, said Denise Adamic of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which organizes firefighting resources in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Kansas.Outside of the north central Colorado mountains, “There’s been no significant precipitation since the first of October,” Adamic said. “The extended outlook is for above-normal temperatures, above-normal wind and below-normal moisture.”Randy Eardley, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said the fire danger forecast for the mountain west region was normal through the end of January but longer-range fire forecasts have not been completed.Klaus Wolter, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, said a weak La Nina weather pattern could be responsible for keeping the Colorado’s Eastern Plains and Front Range dry, at least for the short term.La Nina occurs when temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean push moisture-bearing storms north, sometimes into Canada.”If La Nina solidifies, that would be bad news for spring, but it’s a bit too early to get all worked up about that,” Wolter said.Storms crossing the mountains could drop some snow on the plains if they slow or stall, Wolter said.In another sign of early-season concern, the Colorado Division of Emergency Management activated the fire page of its Web site Monday, about three months earlier than usual.”We have our preseason fire meeting in April. That’s usually when we get our fire Web site up,” division spokeswoman Polly White said.On the Net:Division of Emergency Management fire page:http://www.dola.state.co.us/oem/PublicInformation/firebans/firebans2 006.htm
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