DENVER – A wildfire that was fast advancing on Denver started to slow by nightfall Monday as the wind shifted, easing the threat of mass evacuations in the southwestern metropolitan area.
But the good news for people on the north end of the fire was bad news for crews on the fire's south flank, where the blaze turned back on itself and destroyed what little containment line had been built.
"This fire is totally dominated by mother nature, all wind-driven and because of the drought conditions it's that much more unpredictable," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Haywood.
Earlier Monday, the fire burning toward Denver grew to more than 75,000 acres and roared to within five miles of residential neighborhoods, spreading toward Denver at about a mile an hour. At one point, firefighters were pulled off the lines because it was too dangerous.
About 1,000 people fled their homes Monday, fire officials said. A day earlier, nearly 500 homes and several campgrounds about 50 miles southwest of Denver had been evacuated.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Masinton had told The Associated Press that 40,000 residents had been ordered to leave. But Haywood, who is Masinton's boss, later said Masinton misspoke. She said although it was possible 40,000 would have to leave, no such order had been issued.
Despite the wind shift and a light rain that began to fall Monday night, fire officials warned that the blaze could blow up again at any point.
Fire officials said several structures were destroyed Monday, but they couldn't provide an exact number. "Part of the problem is we just haven't been able to get in there and see," said Joe Colwell, a fire information officer.
The fire was started by an illegal campfire Saturday in the Pike National Forest 55 miles southwest of Denver and had doubled in size since Sunday. Campfires have been banned in national forests and most counties because of severe drought.
It was one of at least eight fires in Colorado, including an 8,300-acre blaze that destroyed 24 homes and sent residents fleeing in Glenwood Springs, near Storm King Mountain in western Colorado.
The fire near Glenwood Springs was 5 percent contained Monday as improved weather allowed airplanes to resume bombing the flames with retardant. The fire destroyed 40 structures, including 24 homes.
About 3,000 residents were ordered to evacuate during the weekend, but the residents of all but 100 homes were allowed to return Monday night.
Residents had earlier expressed frustration while waiting on word that they could return. Only a few people had been allowed back in to briefly check on their property; some brought out family portraits, bags of clothing and pets.
Vickie Derby was relieved to find her home was spared.
"We figured the walls would all be melted," Derby said. "My flowers even bloomed over the weekend. There's hope at the end of the tunnel."
No injuries were reported at Glenwood Springs, but firefighters there were especially cautious because of memories of the Storm King fire that killed 14 firefighters on similarly dry, steep terrain in 1994.
In northeastern New Mexico, hundreds of firefighters were battling a fire burning across 85,000 acres on the Philmont Scout Ranch and Carson National Forest. The blaze was not threatening any structures.