Wildfire near Colo. Springs contained; 100 people were evacuated
FOUNTAIN ” Fed by gusty winds, a grass fire grew to about 1,800 acres Monday, forcing the evacuation of about 100 people in southern Colorado and closing a major highway.
Between 30 and 35 businesses in a small shopping center, the Fountain Valley Shops, were evacuated as the fire burned behind it, said El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Cliff Northam.
Winds gusting to nearly 50 mph along the eastern edge of the Rockies ahead of a storm system pushed the fire along a creek, across grass and scrub oak parched by recent dry weather.
“We’d have had this out hours ago if it wasn’t for this wind,” Northam said.
No homes or businesses were damaged and the fire was 100 percent contained by about 8 p.m. Monday, though some hot spots remained, according to Fountain Police Deputy Chief Mark Barnett.
The blaze was near the community south of Colorado Springs, about 75 miles south of Denver. No injuries were reported.
A thick haze of smoke wafted over some who had gathered to watch the blazed sweep across an open field near their homes.
“We’ve been watering down our whole house ” everything,” said 16-year-old Michelle Magariver, who bought dust masks and handed them out to those watching smoke rise near the railroad tracks.
The approaching storm system was expected to dramatically cool things off after unusually warm weather in eastern Colorado. The mercury reached 83 degrees at the Denver airport Monday, tying a record set in 1987.
The National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning for a huge swath of Colorado, indicating that the potential for wildfires was critical. The warning stretched from Wyoming to New Mexico and covered virtually the entire eastern half of the state.
Fountain Police Deputy Chief Mike Barnett said the fire started about 3 p.m. By about 4:30 p.m., authorities were forced to evacuate people from a trailer park and apartments.
“It’s cautionary at this point,” Barnett said. “We just don’t know which direction the wind is going to go.”
Winds in the area were reported at 40 mph with gusts to 49 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
U.S. Highway 85/87 was closed and smoke was visible off of Interstate 25, Northam said.
About 40 people from at least four local fire departments were fighting the blaze. The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.
In Weld County, several train cars carrying mulch began smoldering but firefighters from several departments were able to keep most of the flames within the cars, Missy Sobemski of the Johnstown Fire Department said.
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