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Federal crews plan to contain wildfire in Colorado

Federal fire crews today expect to take control of the 7-square-mile wildfire blaze that may have claimed two lives and destroyed 28 homes in the mountains southwest of Denver.

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"They have immunity on the duties of managing a forest. It would have to be determined they were negligent or acting outside their duties" for property owners to seek compensation, Walker said.

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Officials found the bodies of a man and woman at a destroyed home, said Daniel Hatlestad of the Jefferson County Incident Management Team. They were identified as Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and Linda M. Lucas, 76. A cause of death was pending for both.

Another woman who lives in the fire zone was reported missing, authorities said.

Residents of 6,500 houses were warned Tuesday to be ready to leave because of the fire's erratic behavior. Many homes are in winding canyons, and authorities wanted to give citizens as much advance warning as possible.

Evacuees formed a long line to see a list of damaged properties posted by the Red Cross at Conifer High School. Residents groaned when Hatlestad told them it wasn't known when the fire would be contained.

"Know that there are hundreds of people out there right now working to save your homes," Hatlestad said.

"I understand that it's a difficult situation, but it's our house, and we're in the target zone," said John Ryan, 47.

Hatlestad said the fire burned so hot that it melted farm and construction machinery, creating a silver stream of molten metal and softening the soles of deputies' shoes.

The fire threat in much of Colorado has grown during an unusually dry and warm March. On March 18, a grass fire charred 37 square miles in eastern Colorado and injured three firefighters.

As the fire near Conifer burned, Jefferson County officials implemented fire restrictions prohibiting any use of fireworks; fires unless they are built in permanently constructed fire grates in a developed park, campground or picnic area; and smoking, except within enclosed vehicles or buildings, a developed recreation site, or an area barren of combustible material within 3 feet.

Across the West, most states face normal wildfire danger, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. However, the potential for summer fires is significantly "above normal" for New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California, said center meteorologist Ed Delgado,

"It's just a changing weather pattern. We're exiting La Nina, and becoming more neutral in that pattern," Delgado said. "Historically when we've entered this weather pattern, we've had situations that would be conducive to those areas having a higher fire threat."

La Nina is a cooling of the surface water in the Pacific Ocean that causes disruptions to weather patterns.

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Associated Press writers Rema Rahman and Steven K. Paulson in Denver, Kristen Wyatt in Conifer, Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo., contributed to this story.

IN PICTURES: Colorado wildfires

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