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Colorado wildfires signal one of state's worst seasons ever

6:10 AM, Jun 20, 2012   |    comments
Forest fire near Livermore, CO.
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FORT COLLINS, CO - As merciless wildfires blaze throughout the West, exhausted firefighters are bracing for more.

Colorado is on the brink of one of its worst fire seasons in history, blamed on very high temperatures and a very low snowpack, which left mountains tinder-dry.

After 10 punishing days, the largest fire here, the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, was 55% contained Tuesday night, according to Brett Haberstick of the Interagency Wildfire Dispatch Center.

It has incinerated 189 homes; almost 2,000 are still threatened. It has burned 93 square miles; 1,911 firefighters are trying to halt the destruction. Cost so far: $17.2 million. The fire was set by lightning June 9.

Several other fast-growing fires have broken out in the state. Gov. John Hickenlooper has banned outdoor fires and all fireworks except municipal displays.

The danger of high winds will be lower for a few days, but winds could kick up by the weekend and fan flames in the interior West and the Rockies, said meteorologist Ed Delgado at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

There's a possibility of thunderstorms in the Southwest and the Rockies on Sunday or Monday, he said. If there is lightning but little or no rain, that could ignite more fires.

Army National Guard police are running checkpoints to deter looters and sightseers. Michael Maher, 30, of Denver, was charged with impersonating a firefighter after police say he posted Facebook photos of himself in firefighting helicopters and with the governor at the High Park command post.

Other wildfires:

•In California, firefighters were able to contain 75% of a 1½-square-mile wildfire in mountainous eastern San Diego County despite gusty winds and low humidity.

•New Mexico's Little Bear Fire near Sierra Vista has burned 62 square miles and 242 residential and commercial structures and 12 outbuildings. It was 60% contained.

•The Poco Fire near Young, Ariz., has burned 6 square miles and is a threat to electrical transmission lines that serve Phoenix and Tucson. It was 15% contained.

•The Russells Camp Fire has burned 4 square miles in the southwest corner of Converse County, Wyo., mostly in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

•In northwest Nebraska, a fire has charred an estimated 8 square miles in Sioux County.

•In Hawaii, Maui firefighters were monitoring the wind-driven Kula Fire that prompted an evacuation and damaged three homes.

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