Colo. Fire Now One Of The Biggest In State History

fromKUNC

Colorado's High Park Fire northwest of Fort Collins has topped 46,000 acres, making it one of the largest wildfires in the state's history. It's also destroyed more than 100 buildings. But firefighters are beginning to gain ground and have started containing the blaze.

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Multiple fires are burning in the West this week. We're going to focus now on the foothills of northern Colorado, where crews are starting to get a handle on one large wildfire. The 46,000-acre blaze erupted Saturday and has burned or destroyed about a hundred structures. Authorities have asked more than 2,000 people to evacuate their homes but it's unclear how many have done so.

Grace Hood, of member station KUNC, reports from Fort Collins.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Fire officials were more upbeat this morning as they discussed the progress of the High Park Fire burning in the mountains northwest of Fort Collins. Standing near an open field with a thick, milky haze in the air, incident commander Bill Hahnenberg says he expects over a thousand firefighters to make progress on the fire's 10 percent containment.

BILL HAHNENBERG: I'm optimistic we're going to be able to increase that significantly after today's operational period.

HOOD: Though Hahnenberg says windy, hot and dry conditions today could hamper that effort. Another challenge is working with acres of bone dry conifer trees destroyed by the mountain pine beetle. Fire that comes across trees like this can move rapidly, creating danger for crews. The good news, says Hahnenberg, is that these dangerous conditions are in mostly uninhabited areas.

HAHNENBERG: That's why we're being so careful on that west side of the fire, to figure out where we can meet the fire on our terms at a location that's best for firefighters.

HOOD: The severity of the blaze has translated into federal and local crews working together. Nick Christensen, with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, explains their goal for today is cataloging exactly which structures were damaged. Previous conditions made getting into the zone difficult.

NICK CHRISTENSEN: That's a major focus. We know people have been displaced, they want to know the status of their home and next steps.

HOOD: He says the decreasing severity of the fire may also mean trips home for some who were evacuated. That's good news for Gary Gadsby, who along with his wife, Mary, had to leave their 17-acre ranch Saturday.

GARY GADSBY: I told her last night I was either going to sleep in jail or in my own bed.

HOOD: Gadsby says he fled with his horses and chickens and is eager to get them back to the ranch. Even though it's early in the fire season, fires are also burning in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. All those blazes equal thin firefighting resources across the West.

For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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