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Colorado Bans Open Fires After Wildfires

January 10, 2006

DENVER (AP) _ Gov. Bill Owens banned open fires on much of the state’s land Monday after watching flames scorch thousands of acres over the weekend and warm, dry weather put wide swaths of the Plains at risk unusually early in the year.

``As far as the fire danger is concerned, this is not January. This is July,″ Owens said. His declaration covers all state-owned land below 8,000 feet.

About 40 residents of Aguilar were evacuated Sunday when a fire neared the outskirts of town, about 160 miles south of Denver. The 5,000-acre blaze, which destroyed three homes, was 5 percent contained Monday and a dozen residents returned home. Authorities said 6 inches of snow dampened the danger.

No injuries were reported.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Timock said the fire was human-caused but that no other details were available.

The fire in the Spanish Peaks area, and at least 43 wildfires in Arkansas, followed fires on the drought-parched southern Plains that have ravaged parts of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. At least 475 homes have been destroyed and five people have been killed.

Among the Arkansas wildfires, a 3,000-acre fire in Ashley County was contained Monday. It had destroyed four homes and four other buildings, but no injuries had been reported.

Arkansas Forestry Commission spokeswoman Tonja Kelly said Monday the big fire in Ashley County and a smaller one nearby were arson, and county and state officials would investigate.

Arson also was blamed for two small grass fires less than a mile apart in Oklahoma City on Sunday. The fires destroyed one home and damaged another, said battalion chief Kirk Wright.

Oklahoma fire crews responded to more than 30 fires Sunday, including one that charred about 6,000 acres, according to the state’s incident command center in Shawnee.

Despite heavy snowfall this winter in parts of the Colorado mountains, the region of forests, brush and grass just east of the peaks has been dry and the Forest Service rates the fire danger as very high to extreme.

One woman who lost her home to the Aguilar flames said she escaped only because of a warning from her neighbors.

``We had no time to do anything but run,″ said Eva Holmes, a retiree whose home was still under construction.

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Associated Press writer Peggy Harris in Arkansas contributed to this report.

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