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Colorado wildfire takes its first fatality (+videos)

The Colorado fire has killed one woman, and destroyed at least 118 structures near Fort Collins. Colorado lawmakers are calling for more federal help to fight the uncontained wildfire.

By Thomas PeipertAssociated Press / June 12, 2012


Bellvue, Colorado

One person was dead as massive wildfires in drought-parched Colorado and New Mexico burned out of control, while Western lawmakers pleaded for updates to an aging US aerial firefighting fleet needed to combat a fire season that lasts year-round.

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About 600 firefighters were expected to be battling the fire by Tuesday, said incident commander Bill Hahnenberg. "We are a very high priority nationally. We can get all the resources we want and need," he said.

The Colorado fire has destroyed at least 118 structures, and hundreds of people have been forced to abandon their homes.

IN PICTURES: Colorado wildfires

The U.S. Forest Service said late Monday it would add more aircraft to its aerial firefighting fleet, contracting one air tanker from the state of Alaska and four from Canada. Two more air tankers were being activated in California.

The announcement came after Colorado's U.S. House congressional delegation demanded that the U.S. Forest Service deploy more resources to the fire, which was totally uncontained.

The Larimer County sheriff's office confirmed Monday that one person had died.

The family of Linda Steadman, 62, had reported her missing after the fire started Saturday, sheriff's officials said. Investigators found remains in her burned home Monday that haven't been positively identified yet, but her family issued a statement saying Steadman died in the cabin she loved.

In a letter to the Forest Service, Colorado's congressmen said the need for firefighting aircraft was "dire." Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall urged President Barack Obama to sign legislation that would allow the Forest Service to contract at least seven large air tankers to add to its fleet of 13 — which includes the two on loan from Canada.

One of the region's most potent aerial firefighting forces — two Wyoming Air National Guard C-130s fitted to drop slurry — sat on a runway in Cheyenne, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the Colorado fire. The reason: The U.S. Forest Service, by law, cannot call for military resources until it deems that its fleet is fully busy. It also takes 36 hours to mobilize the crews and planes, officials said.

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