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Crews Work to Save Colo. Town as Wildfire Grows

Some 1,500 forced to flee tourist town of South Fork

Wildfire smoke masks the sun as it sets over a ridge Saturday, June 22, 2013, near South Fork, Colo. A massive wildfire threatening a tourist region in southwestern Colorado has grown to nearly 60 square miles, but officials said Saturday that the erratic blaze had slowed and they were optimistic they could protect the town of South Fork. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

DEL NORTE, Colo. (AP) - Fanned by another afternoon of high winds, the erratic wildfire threatening tourist areas of the southwestern Colorado mountains grew to 100 square miles on Saturday, and fire officials said they saw little hope for a break before Tuesday.

Still, they remained optimistic of saving the popular summer retreat of South Fork, and some 600 firefighters spent another day trying to keep the flames from moving in on the Wolf Creek Ski area and the historic mining town of Creede.

"I like our chances," fire operations chief Russ Long said when asked about the chances of protecting South Fork from one of three blazes in the so-called West Fork fire complex that were sparked last week by lighting in forests turned tinder by lingering drought and beetle infestations that have killed thousands of acres of spruce trees.

But he emphasized that firefighters were strictly in defensive mode, with no containment of the fire.

The blaze's rapid advance on Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of summer visitors and the town's 400 permanent residents, and it could be days before people are allowed back into their homes, cabins and RV parks, fire crew officials said. South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 people were forced to flee.

The fire's movement toward South Fork had slowed overnight Friday when winds dropped and the flames moved into a more healthy section of forest. But 30- to 40- mph winds returned Saturday afternoon, grounding aircraft and spreading the fast-moving flames to the north.

The town of Creede's 300 residents were under voluntary evacuation orders as officials feared the fire could reach the roads leading out of town.

Officials said they knew of no structures lost, and they estimated the blaze was about a mile and half from South Fork.

"We were very, very lucky," said Rio Grande County Commissioner Carla Shriver. "We got a free pass yesterday."

Many of the evacuees are retirees from Texas and Oklahoma, who come to the mountains in their RVs to escape the summer heat.

"We jumped out of the South Texas hot box into the Colorado frying pan," said Ralph Harden of Victoria, Texas.

Some business owners were allowed back into South Fork during the day Saturday to tie up issues left unattended in the rush to leave.

New fire crews, meanwhile, descended from other areas to join more than 600 firefighters in the area.

And the Red Cross, anticipating the mandatory South Fork evacuation would last for days, prepared to bring in more supplies and portable showers.

Many of the evacuees are retirees from Texas and Oklahoma, who come to the mountains in their RVs to escape the summer heat.

"We jumped out of the South Texas hot box into the Colorado frying pan," said Ralph Harden of Victoria, Texas.

The heavy smoke from the fire was so thick that the plume was credited with keeping keep an 18-square-milewildfire burning 100 miles to the east near Walsenburg from spreading as fast as it would have otherwise.

Susan Valente, an on-site spokeswoman for an 18-square-mile fire near Walsenburg, said the shade helped keep the forest from drying out in the hot afternoon sun. Residents from 300 homes remain evacuated while in the city of Walsenburg and the town of Aguilar remain on pre-evacuation notice, meaning residents must be ready to flee at a moment's notice.

"Fire conditions are prime with the combination of fuels, heat, winds and low humidity," fire information officer Mike Stearly of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, "It's expected to be like this through next Tuesday."

There are 12 wildfires burning in Colorado that have scorched 133 square miles, which includes the Black Forest fire that destroyed 511 homes north of Colorado Springs and is the most destructive in Colorado history.

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Amen John Perry. If foresters were allowed to do their jobs and manage the forests without the environmentalists dictating how to do it then the beetle kill trees would be harvested before they become fuel.

June 23 2013 at 3:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Or they can blame ,the Environmentalist for this ,and all the other fires that occur !!

June 23 2013 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well the Mexicans figure that if they can't have the state back ,no body can ,light it up !!

June 23 2013 at 1:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
John Perry

Did you all notice the first thing the Fire Information Officer listed in is Fire conditions report? FUEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ever wonder why our Western Pine Forest have suffered these massive unstoppable firestorms in the last 10 years or so???
In the late 1800s to early 1900s the average tree count was 40 to 50 trees per acre.
TODAY the count is 10 times greater due to fire suppression and stopping commercial logging.
When the tree count is so high the moisture originally that supported 40 trees now supports 400.
The lack of moisture leads to weak trees which cannot fight off the Pine Beatle infestations.
Then when the Forest Service wants to have a commercial Fire Reduction Sale it's stopped by so-called environmentalist Court action.
With only 40 or 50 trees per acre Forest Fires were low, slow, cool burning CLEANSING fires that cleaned up the Forest floor.
Today you can't walk through most of our foresst because of the over growth and debris on the floor.
Cleansing "Forest Fires" are a thing of the past because of our unhealthy, fuel laden forests.
Only when our Forest Service is allowed to use Scientific Forest management tools will we stop todays Massive Fire Storms.

I know the fear when the Gates of Hell to open up and it's fire is raining down upon you in an attempt to consume you, your family and everything you worked for.
My neighbors and myself were almost consumed by a 40000 acre wild fire that could have been stopped at less than a 1000 acres had environmentalists not stopped a Forest Service Fuel Reduction Project on behalf of the Pacific Fisher.
NOW the Fisher Habitat is DESTROYED along with an additional 39000 acres of beautiful Pine Forest.
So called environmentalist have to be held accountable for the massive damage their ignorant, emotional actions have caused.

June 23 2013 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
E-vox America

American government needs to concentrate on OUR INFRASTRUCTURE and forget about all this "overseas" junk, forget about Afghanistan, giving billions to Pakistan, rebuilding Iraq, and keeping the Saudis happy by purchasing their oil. It's YOUR MONEY, good people of America; make sure it is USED HERE and for OUR NATIONAL INTERESTS.

June 23 2013 at 11:55 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to E-vox America's comment

that's a kaugh

June 23 2013 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to elysianfields08's comment

laugh oops

June 23 2013 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Colorado is not big on cloud seeding like other western states . The clouds roll through but leave very litte rain or snow if any

June 23 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's my plan: Build a pipe system across (criss-crossing) the United States, with numerous "ponds" to hold water. These systems can be connected to numerous pumps and controls, that will allow us to pump water from our "flood ares", to reservoirs, and then to needed areas to fight fires. It serves several purposes: it eliminates floods and resulting mud-slides and the resulting property losses, it can be installed through forested ares and any tinder areas and therefore be used to fight fires with massive amounts of water, and during the decades it will take to build such a system it will PUT PEOPLE TO WORK... Where would the funding come from? Insurance companies, (they would SAVE BILLIONS in the long run), States and Federal Government funding, and even private business and property owners who will stand to benefit a great deal by these systems. The systems and piping does not always require burying, as "above ground" is just as good, as if it sprung a leak, it would be WATER.... But, most important is allowing private "designers" to do most of this, as we know the efficiency of the Government is not good (at best)

June 23 2013 at 10:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to DanD's comment

i like your thinking dan.....

June 23 2013 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good call on Iraq . Spend trillions there while usa goes to hell

June 23 2013 at 10:26 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

When are they going to STOP all of this?

June 23 2013 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan while America burns. Sigh.

June 23 2013 at 9:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
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