Colo. town braces for long evacuation because of wildfire
DEL NORTE, Colo. — A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by wind and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.
The weather has prevented fire crews from making progress on the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. The speed with which the fire has spread is exceptional: It was just below 50 square miles Friday evening.
No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.
It is doubtful fire crews could establish any containment lines until there's a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said. They remained optimistic they can protect the town, however.
As of Sunday, officials firefighters remained focused on protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area and homes along Highway 149.
Crews hoped to get aircraft up to drop water over the fire before afternoon winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour returned. Pete Blume, a commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team, said the wildfire is the worst ever known to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.
“It's not typical to have these kinds of fires here,” Blume said. “But beetle kill and drought is also not the norm.”
Firefighters are hoping for a break in the high winds as well as the anticipated July monsoons to help them fight back the flames. Until then, Blume said, “with that much beetle kill and drought, we could have every resource in the country here and still not put in a containment line.”
Still, fire officials believe portions of the blaze is likely to burn all summer in forested, nonresidential areas, with full extinguishment probably months away.
The lightning-sparked blaze started June 5, but its rapid advance Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and the town's 400 permanent residents.
Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.
“They just said they had no idea how long it would be before we could be back in South Fork,” said Mike Duffy, who owns the South Fork Lodge.
Duffy said he and his wife, Mary, were able to get their personal possessions before fleeing fast-advancing flames that officials initially feared would overtake the town. But with the fire still within three miles of South Fork, they are worried about the long-term impact of a prolong evacuation and news reports about the fire raging around the tourism-dependent town.
Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.
South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke estimates that between 1,000 to 1,500 people had to flee, including the summer visitors and permanent residents.
More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, and more are coming every day. They also focused on newest arm of the fire as it crept through beetle kill toward the historic mining town of Creede, the last silver boom town in Colorado before the industry went bust in the late 1800s.
Elsewhere in Colorado, about a dozen fires also continued to burn. Firefighters were making progress on a 19-square-mile wildfire near Walsenburg in southern Colorado. The fire was 10 percent contained.
And a wildfire in foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver was expected to be fully contained Sunday evening. That fire burned 511 acres and forced 100 people to leave their homes.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mountaineer workers fear smoking ban will harm ‘livelihood’
- Perdue defeats Kingston in Ga. GOP Senate runoff
- Cyber domain is next battleground, authors of 9/11 report warn
- Defiant Vietnam POW honored
- U.S. intel believes civilian plane might have been mistaken for Ukraine military aircraft
- VA nominee to demand ‘urgent action,’ he tells panel
- Autistic twin men locked up in Maryland home
- HGH use on the rise in teens, survey finds
- To fight crime, Chicago tries wiping away arrests
- ‘Slenderman’ attack victim receives Purple Heart from anonymous well wisher
- Explosion levels home in Central Texas; 3 hurt