Firefighters struggle with major blazes in Western US states

Monday, 25 June 2012 00:57 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Firefighters in U.S. Western states struggled to contain raging wind-stoked wildfires on Saturday as summer temperatures mounted, and a fresh blaze consumed more dwellings in Colorado even as Utah allowed 2,500 evacuees home for the night.

Colorado firefighters focused their efforts on the High Park Fire, a 81,190-acre (32,856-hectare) blaze in steep canyons west of Fort Collins that jumped containment lines on Friday and roared through a subdivision, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

As firefighters tried to push back the flames there, a fire that broke out 18 miles (29 km) away in a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park spread through an area home to vacation dwellings and full-time residences in Estes Park.

“Approximately 16 structures were involved. I don’t know the condition,” said Reid Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, adding that resources had to be diverted from the High Park fire to battle the destructive 20-acre blaze.

Those losses were on top of the 200 other homes destroyed by the High Park fire in the two weeks since the lightning-sparked blaze was first spotted in Colorado, where high temperatures were in the triple digits in many areas on Saturday.

In Denver, a dense canopy of gray smoke could be seen drifting east from the fire zone over Colorado’s high plains, at times blocking the view of the mountains, and the smell of burning timber wafted through the city.

The Colorado fire is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother who perished in her mountain cabin. The High Park Fire is already the state’s most destructive and the second-largest on record in Colorado.

As of Friday, there were 15 large, uncontained wildfires being fought across the country, most in six Western states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona - the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported.