Crews Pray for Rain As Fires Grow
Jun. 19, 2002
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:CONB120-061902; AUDIO:149%)
Crews desperately looked for an edge over two huge wildfires burning out of control in Colorado on Wednesday, taking some hope from slightly lower temperatures and weaker winds.
Conditions were still bad, with humidity low and temperatures in the high 80s. But that was better than the day before, when the two largest fires in state history gobbled up thousands of new acres and put crews on the defensive.
One of the fires ballooned by 22,000 acres on Tuesday and was burning across 135,000 acres just 35 miles southwest of Denver. It has forced thousands of people from their homes, and it sent a yellow haze over parts of the metropolitan area again Wednesday.
``We're hoping it doesn't make the big gains today it made yesterday,'' fire information officer Bobby Kitchens said. ``Because the humidity is higher, our crews should make good progress in containment.''
Cooler weather also favored California firefighters battling a half-dozen major blazes. Winds had also died down near Yosemite National Park, where nearly 15,000 acres have burned and three firefighters were killed in an air tanker crash Monday.
Federal investigators were at the scene Wednesday hoping to determine why the wings of the C-130A snapped off before the crash.
The National Interagency Fire Center said there were 16 large fires burning on 411,000 acres in 11 states Wednesday. That does not include a 100,000-acre fire in a remote part of Alaska.
Overall, federal officials say, wildfires have scorched 1.75 million acres so far this year, more than double the 10-year average on this date.
There were fresh evacuation orders Wednesday, this time in New Mexico. Authorities went door-to-door in Pecos, 20 miles southeast of Santa Fe, to clear up to 25 families from their homes in advance of a 2,200-acre wildfire.
In Colorado, authorities warned that a 44,320-acre fire in the state's southwestern corner could grow to more than 100,000 acres.
Smoke and haze drifted over the Durango area as the fire burned in forests around two reservoirs. It has destroyed at least 10 homes and six buildings, and more than 2,400 people have been evacuated.
Crews were more focused on saving homes than battling the fire itself because it was spreading so quickly.
``We're a long way from having a handle on the fire,'' information officer Mark Morrow said. ``We don't want to lose homes that have already been saved once.''
The fire near Denver has destroyed at least 25 houses and about 7,500 people have been forced from their homes since June 8. A Forest Service employee, Terry Barton, faces a court appearance Thursday on charges that she started the fire.
The situation with the two Colorado fires was so drastic that President Bush declared the fires a major disaster and ordered federal aid to help state and local efforts in areas hit by wildfires since April 23. Federal funding will include disaster housing, grants, and other programs.
On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov