- (Photo: Reuters/Todd Tamcsin)
A wildfire that started in northern Colorado at around dawn on Saturday reached 8,000 acres, about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, and was moving towards homes and Poudre Canyon, forcing dozens of evacuations, by late evening.
"It was a tough day," ABC News quoted Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith as saying. "I've been with the agency for 21 years. This is probably the fire we were always concerned we might possibly have."
Less than an hour after it announced that the so-called High Park Fire was at 8,000 acres with 0 percent containment, county officials said late Saturday they were going to do pre-evacuation notifications for the Poudre Park to Boyd Gulch corridor along highway 14 in Poudre Canyon, but "we have determined that it would be prudent to evacuate tonight instead of tomorrow and to extend those evacuations further than first intended."
The new evacuations include the entire lower Poudre Canyon from Poudre Park down to the bottom of the canyon, officials said. Highway 14 in Poudre Canyon was shortly to be closed at Ted's Place.
An evacuation center has been set up at a Laporte middle school. "Right now we're just trying to get these evacuations done and get people safe," KMGH-TV quoted Sheriff's Office spokesman John Schulz as saying. He added that "given the extreme heat in the area, it makes it a difficult time."
About 10 structures were confirmed lost or damaged as of Saturday night, and others were threatened. Firefighters were trying to douse the flames with air tankers and helicopter water drops. One firefighter was taken non-emergent by ambulance out of the area for heat exhaustion.
Officials said the blaze was reported early Saturday and spread fast into the Roosevelt National Forest. At 6 p.m., the fire was at 2,000 to 3,000 acres, but it reached 5,000 acres in less than two hours. And within the following three hours, it reached 8,000 acres.
The National Weather Service said in an advisory that most of Colorado was experiencing tinder-dry conditions. "The combination of sunny skies ... low humidities and gusty winds will cause critical fire weather conditions."
Meanwhile, a fire in southern New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest had also grown to 10,000 acres as on late Saturday.