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Denver Fire Could Force Evacuations

June 11, 2002

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DENVER (AP) _ A wind-driven wildfire closed in fast on Denver on Monday, and authorities said up to 40,000 people might be forced to leave their homes along the southwestern edge of the metropolitan area.

The fire burning across more than 75,000 acres roared to within five miles of residential neighborhoods, spreading toward Denver at about a mile an hour.

Firefighters were pulled off the lines in front of the fire because it was too dangerous.

``They just cannot see the front of this fire because of the smoke,″ said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said Barb Masinton.

Nearly 500 homes and several campgrounds about 50 miles southwest of Denver were evacuated on Sunday.

Masinton told The Associated Press that an additional 40,000 residents had been ordered to leave their homes. But U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Haywood, who is Masinton’s boss, later said Masinton misspoke. She said that it was possible 40,000 would have to leave, but that no such order had been issued.

``It was our lifelong dream to live up here,″ said Carol Simone, who was forced to flee her home about 30 miles south of Denver. ``It isn’t about the house, it’s the woods and the environment. If that’s destroyed I’m going back to Florida.″

The fire was started by an illegal campfire Saturday in the Pike National Forest 55 miles southwest of Denver and had doubled in size since Sunday. Campfires have been banned in national forests and most counties because of severe drought.

Nearly 300 firefighters were on the lines and more crews were ordered into place. Four bombers and four helicopters dropped fire retardant and water.

``There’s nothing that can be done to stop this fire under current weather and fuel conditions,″ said Gov. Bill Owens, who urged residents in the path of the fire to be prepared to leave if the order comes.

It was one of at least eight fires in Colorado, including an 8,300-acre blaze that destroyed 24 homes and sent residents fleeing in Glenwood Springs, near Storm King Mountain in western Colorado.

The fire near Glenwood Springs was 5 percent contained Monday as improved weather allowed airplanes to resume bombing the flames with retardant. The fire destroyed 40 structures, including 24 homes. About 3,000 residents were ordered to evacuate during the weekend.

Frustrated residents waited for permission to return to their homes. A few people were allowed back in to briefly check on their property; some brought out family portraits, bags of clothing and pets.

Vickie Derby was relieved to find her home was spared.

``We figured the walls would all be melted,″ Derby said. ``My flowers even bloomed over the weekend. There’s hope at the end of the tunnel.″

No injuries were reported at Glenwood Springs, but firefighters there were especially cautious because of memories of the Storm King fire that killed 14 firefighters on similarly dry, steep terrain in 1994.

In northeastern New Mexico, hundreds of firefighters were battling a fire burning across 85,000 acres on the Philmont Scout Ranch and Carson National Forest. The blaze was not threatening any structures.

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