More evacuations as winds fuel Colo. wildfire

Associated Press
Fires erupt on a ridge over a Boy Scouts camp east of Red Feather Lakes, Colo., on Sunday, June 17, 2012, as a stubborn wildfire continues to burn in northern Colorado. Crews are facing powerful winds as they battle the blaze that has scorched about 86 square miles of mountainous forest land and destroyed at least 181 homes, the most in state history. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — More residents were out of their homes Monday as fire crews face another day of powerful winds fueling a wildfire that has charred more than 87 square miles of forested mountains in northern Colorado.

The fire danger was high in much of Colorado and the rest of the Rocky Mountain region because of hot, dry weather and expected gusty winds.

Firefighters at the High Park fire west of Fort Collins dealt with winds of 30 mph with gusts of up to 50 mph Sunday. Some rain moved through Saturday evening, but it wasn't enough to quell the fire.

"The problem is that when you have a fire like this, even if it rains it evaporates before it hits the ground," said Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Julie Berney.

Despite the winds, fire officials said crews Sunday were able to maintain most existing fire lines, with the fire chewing through about 1,000 more acres.

About 1,750 personnel were working on the fire, which was sparked by lightning and was 45 percent contained.

The fire has destroyed at least 181 homes, the most in state history. It surpassed the Fourmile Canyon wildfire that destroyed 169 homes near Boulder two years ago.

Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said he was pleased with the firefighters' progress.

"A scenario could be we'll lose some line, and then we just go after it the next day and the next day," he said.

Two waves of evacuation notices were sent to an unknown number of residents Sunday afternoon and night.

Also Sunday, a fire erupted in the foothills west of Colorado Springs, prompting the evacuation of an unknown number of homes as well as some cabins, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area. The fire has spread to 450 acres and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry, windy conditions.

In southwest Colorado, a fire near Pagosa Springs has grown to 11,617 acres and is 30 percent contained. It was sparked by lightning May 13.

As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.

On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff's department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.

His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.

"There's a handful out there that are taking advantage of others," said Sheriff Justin Smith, adding that "if somebody's sneaking around back there, we're going to find them."

The fire is also forcing wildlife to flee the flames. A moose seeking shelter in Fort Collins is back in the wild after swimming across Horsetooth Reservoir, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan (http://noconow.co/M0G9M3 ). Wildlife officials tranquilized the moose, blindfolded it and moved it to an area away from the fire.

Across the West:

— California: A wildfire that forced the evacuation of 150 homes in a rural area of San Diego County surged to 800 acres overnight and was 5 percent contained. Evacuations were voluntary but residents were warned that could change if winds pick up as expected.

— New Mexico: A wildfire in southern New Mexico has destroyed 242 homes and businesses, and firefighters are working to increase containment and keep an eye out for possible lightning. The 59-square-mile Little Bear Fire in Ruidoso is 60 percent contained. Dan Bastion, a spokesman for crews fighting the fire, said most of the fire is in the mop-up stage, but crews need to build more containment on the fire's active west side to deprive it of fuel.

— Arizona: Firefighters are focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes. The fire is 15 percent contained.

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Associated Press writers Amanda Myers in Phoenix and Amy Taxin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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