Summit County’s fire-danger rated ‘extreme’

Daily News staff report
Smoke roils over a ridge east of Red Feather Lakes, Colo., on Sunday, June 17, 2012, as a stubborn wildfire continues to burn in northern Colorado. Crews are facing powerful winds as they battle the blaze that has scorched about 86 square miles of mountainous forest land and destroyed at least 181 homes, the most in state history. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The wildfire danger in Summit County has reached “extreme” for the first time this year, and residents and visitors alike are urged to exercise the utmost precautions in these conditions.

The extreme fire level means that fires start quickly, spread at an incredible rate and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious. Development into high-intensity burning will usually be faster and occur from smaller fires than in the very high fire-danger class. Every fire start has the potential to become large. Expect extreme, erratic behavior. No outdoor burning should take place in areas with extreme fire behavior.

“Nearly 200 property owners already have lost their homes in the High Park fire outside of Fort Collins. We hope we never have to experience that kind of grief and pain here in Summit County,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Parmley. “It’s going to require a conscientious effort on the part of everyone to ensure that wildfire doesn’t leave its indelible mark here.”

Monday was rated a “red flag” day, according to Lake Dillon assistant chief Jeff Berino. High winds and a low relative humidity prompted the additional warning.

Both Summit County and the entire state of Colorado have enacted bans on open burning, but even allowed fires – such as those in approved, permanent campground fire pits – should be used with great discretion, constantly monitored and fully extinguished. Motorists should be careful about parking their cars, ATV and motorcycles in dry grass. Chainsaw users must have spark arresters. And officials encourage reporting all smoke and fire sightings immediately to 9-1-1.

DENVER (AP) – Firefighters faced dangerous conditions across much of the Rocky Mountain region Monday, as hot, dry weather and expected gusty winds threatened to fuel a wildfire that has charred about 90 square miles in northern Colorado.

Authorities have ordered new waves of evacuations, urging residents to flee from a blaze that has destroyed more homes than any other in state history.

About 1,750 people were working to stop the fire, which was sparked by lightning and was 45 percent contained.

Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said he was pleased with the firefighters’ efforts and indicated that if the weather hampered their progress “then we just go after it the next day and the next day.”

Firefighters at the High Park fire west of Fort Collins dealt with 30 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 mph Sunday. Some rain moved through Saturday evening, but it wasn’t enough to quell the fire.

“The problem is that when you have a fire like this, even if it rains it evaporates before it hits the ground,” said Larimer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Julie Berney.

Despite the winds, fire officials said crews Sunday were able to maintain most existing fire lines, with the fire chewing through about 1,000 more acres.

The blaze has burned down at least 181 homes, surpassing the destructive toll of the Fourmile Canyon wildfire that destroyed 169 homes near Boulder two years ago.

Two waves of evacuation notices were sent to an unknown number of residents Sunday afternoon and night.

Also Sunday, a fire erupted in the foothills west of Colorado Springs, prompting the evacuation of an unknown number of homes as well as some cabins, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area. The fire has spread to 450 acres and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry, windy conditions.

In southwest Colorado, a fire near Pagosa Springs has grown to 11,617 acres and was 30 percent contained. It was sparked by lightning May 13.

As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.

On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff’s department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.

His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.

“There’s a handful out there that are taking advantage of others,” said Sheriff Justin Smith, adding that “if somebody’s sneaking around back there, we’re going to find them.”

The fire is also forcing wildlife to flee the flames. A moose seeking shelter in Fort Collins is back in the wild after swimming across Horsetooth Reservoir, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan ( ). Wildlife officials tranquilized the moose, blindfolded it and moved it to an area away from the fire.

Across the West:

– Wyoming: A grass fire destroyed four homes in a small community outside Casper, Wyo., Sunday afternoon, but no one was injured. Another wildfire discovered Sunday has burned about 800 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

– California: A wildfire that forced the evacuation of 150 homes in a rural area of San Diego County surged to 800 acres overnight and was 5 percent contained. Evacuations were voluntary, but residents were warned that could change if winds pick up as expected.

– Nevada: Crews are fighting a 22,000-acre fire north of Ely, Nev., that has burned a mobile home. The person living there was evacuated and no injuries have been reported in the North Schell Fire that’s burning steep, rugged terrain on the east side of the Schell Mountain Range, authorities said.

– New Mexico: Firefighters are taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Another fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles. It’s 80 percent contained.

– Arizona: Firefighters are focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes. The fire is 15 percent contained.

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