Crews await calmer winds at 250-acre fire in southern Colorado |

Crews await calmer winds at 250-acre fire in southern Colorado

Gusty winds that kept air tankers grounded at a 250-acre wildfire in southern Colorado were expected to lessen slightly on Thursday, but 100 people remained out of their homes and a state highway was closed.

Winds reached 45 mph on Wednesday, too strong for the tankers to take off from Westcliffe, about 100 miles south of Denver. Today’s forecast called for winds of about 30 mph with stronger gusts, but there was no immediate word on whether the planes would be able to join the fight.

Fire officials did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.

A 6-mile stretch of Colorado 96 was closed east of Westcliffe.

About 100 people heeded firefighters’ warnings and left their homes Wednesday, although evacuations were voluntary, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mike Smith. No injuries were reported, but one house had fire damage to the exterior, he said.

“I’ve been in fires before,” said Shirley Ward, a retired military nurse who left her home and 240-acre property. “One minute they’re over here, the next minute they’re over the next hill.”

The fire, about eight miles east of Westcliffe, began when a tree fell, dragging a power line down with it, authorities said.

About 100 firefighters from several agencies were on scene, and more were expected Thursday.

American Red Cross spokesman David Just said the opened a shelter in Custer County High School in Westcliffe. It was not immediately known how many people took refuge there.

A fire in the southwest Denver area prompted authorities to close two major highways during the Wednesday evening rush. Officials said the fire was apparently sparked by a passing train, and it quickly scorched 30 acres before it was contained.

“It’s so dry out here that it doesn’t take more than a spark to start a wildfire,” said Jamie Moore, Douglas County director of Emergency Management.

C-470 and U.S. 85 were temporarily closed.

In northwestern Colorado, wind gusting to 45 mph pushed a wildfire across 3,700 acres just north of Dinosaur National Monument, leading officials to ask for evacuations of 35 homes in and around the tiny community of Greystone, about 200 miles west of Denver.

Evacuations were voluntary, and it was not immediately known how many people left. An abandoned cabin was destroyed but none of the houses was immediately threatened, said Lynn Barclay, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

“It’s hot, it’s windy, it’s dry. We’re in extreme fire danger,” Barclay said.

Six fire engines, 86 firefighters and a helicopter were at the scene, although winds grounded aircraft Wednesday, Barclay said. The fire was 20 percent contained Wednesday afternoon.

Fire officials have said a stump that was still smoldering after a lightning strike last week ignited the fire.

A 25-acre fire burned in sagebrush and beetle-killed timber Hot Sulphur Springs, about 60 miles northwest of Denver. Firefighters contained a 50-acre wildfire near Milliken, about 40 miles north of Denver, after one home was evacuated.

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