Wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming force evacuations (+video)
Federal firefighters will take over the fire fight west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday. New Mexico battles the largest wildfire in state history. Wildfires in Wyoming forced the evacuation of as many as 1,000 campers at Guernsey State Park.
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In Colorado, authorities sent nearly 1,800 evacuation notices to phone numbers but it wasn't clear how many residents had to leave. About 500 people had checked in at Red Cross shelters. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said there was an unconfirmed report of a person unaccounted for, but he wouldn't elaborate.Skip to next paragraph
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Authorities say it's the worst fire seen in Larimer County in about 25 years. It spread as fast as 1 1/2 miles an hour Saturday, skipping over some areas but burning intensely in trees in others. Flames were coming dangerously close to deputies who were telling some residents to evacuate, Smith said.
Kathie Walter and her husband helped friends several miles away evacuate from the Colorado fire on Saturday. When they got home, they were surprised to get a call warning them to be ready to evacuate just in case. But Walter didn't want to wait.
"Smoke was coming in hard. We could not see flames or orange or black smoke. But we didn't need to see anymore. We just said 'Hey, let's get out of here,'" she said.
They evacuated with their five cats and two dogs. They had a head start. After a wildfire in the area last year, they had left two suitcases packed in their garage.
Elaine Mantle and her family got a call to evacuate their Bellvue home at 5:45 a.m. Sunday. It took about 30 minutes for them to get out and reach a spillover shelter at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland. Evacuees gathered there for a fire briefing, sipping coffee and eating bananas and powdered doughnuts, in a large gymnasium-like space.
It was the Mantles' first evacuation in the 25 years that they have lived in the mountains, and they were grateful to be safe.
"We're all here, we're all OK. Our neighbors are all here. We feel good," Mantle said.
The blaze also forced the evacuation of 11 wolves from a sanctuary near the fire. KUSA-TV in Denver reported that 19 wolves remained behind at the sanctuary, which has underground concrete bunkers known as "fire dens" that can be used by the animals.
The fire is the latest to hit Colorado's drought-stricken Front Range. In May, a fire set by a camper's stove charred 12 square miles in the same Poudre Canyon area. In March, a fire sparked by a prescribed burn 25 miles southwest of Denver killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes.
Eight air tankers — including two from Canada — and several helicopters were on the scene to help fight the blaze.
Authorities say they're competing for resources that have been diluted by several wildfires burning across the West.
"Resources are thin right now," said Nick Christensen of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. "We are trying to get more of everything at this point."
Meanwhile, the speed at which the fire has spread has dashed any hopes of containment for the time being.
"These folks are doing everything they can, but Mother Nature is running this fire," Smith, the sheriff, said.
Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.