Winds ease, helping crews fight Colorado wildfire (+video)

The Galena wildfire, west of Fort Collins, has burned about 1,000 acres. But weather conditions are improving. The wildfire was only 5 percent contained.

By , Associated Press

Calmer weather Saturday is expected to help crews fighting a wildfire that has scorched between 750 and 1,000 acres west of Fort Collins.

Nick Christensen, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Department, says strong winds that caused havoc Friday had died down by Saturday morning, and many of the residents who were forced to leave the area were allowed to return home. No injuries have been reported and no structures have been damaged.

Christensen says 579 phone lines received automated calls ordering evacuations, but he did not have an exact count on how many people were forced from their homes.

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The fire, which is 5 percent contained, is burning west of Horsetooth Reservoir, near the scene of a large wildfire last summer that burned 259 homes and killed one person. Authorities say the latest fire was started accidentally.

The Coloradan reports that because this wildfire is so early in the year - well before the typical wildfire season - the federal government doesn't have private fire-fighting aircraft under contract yet.

The lack of aerial firefighting resources is raising questions from residents like Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson, who lives in Stout and is on pre-evacuation notice. Air tankers and helicopters are generally not used to directly attack a fire, but are more commonly used to protect specific areas, such as homes like those under threat from the south-moving Galena Fire.  

“I also think we at all levels of government need to take a good look at what firefighting resources are available and when,” Johnson said Saturday morning. “A one-day delay in air resources is simply not acceptable.”

But the Coloradan also reports that a firefight helicopter was expected to start dropping buckets of water on the Galena fire Saturday morning.

“There is still a lot of fire in the ground,” said incident commander Tony Simons of Larimer County Emergency Services. “It’s steep, rugged, rocky terrain.”  About 50 firefighters are already working on the ground, with another 60 on the way, Simons said. He said predicted moisture didn’t materialize overnight, but lower temperatures and higher relative humidity helped slow the fire’s growth overnight. Simons said a wind shift is expected later Saturday, which may push the fire south again as it did Friday."

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