Progress on Biggest Colorado Fire, but Danger Remains

Winds of up to 40 mph and hot, dry temperatures Saturday afternoon were challenging crews working to contain three major wildfires burning on more than 220,000 acres across the state.

Crews working at the Hayman fire burning on 137,000 acres southwest of Denver were deciding whether to use helicopters, and were preparing for fire bursting through containment lines. The fire is the largest since Colorado became a state.

"We've been saying the past two days that we'll be tested today. We were cramming for it the last two days," said fire information officer Bobby Kitchens "We're going to get the test today."

Firefighters were able to extend containment lines around 60 percent of the fire Friday due to cooler temperatures.

"I'd be surprised if the fire didn't break through somewhere, but we're not going to have these 2 or 3 mile fire fronts like we had the other day," Kitchens "I'm sure we'll be able to get them."

Crews discovered more houses that had been destroyed, boosting the total of lost homes to 114. About 420 other buildings were also destroyed.

High winds expected Saturday afternoon could cause another uproar in the Missionary Ridge fire near Durango in southwestern Colorado, fire information officer Marty O'Toole said. The area was declared a major disaster Saturday, making residents and businesses available for federal funding.

The fire grew by 8,000 acres Friday to 67,700 acres and had destroyed 45 homes. The fire was 25 percent contained Saturday.

Some of the 1,263 firefighters on scene were being counseled for stress after dealing with demolished homes. Three firefighters left the area Saturday because their homes in Show Low, Ariz. were being threatened by a 130,000-acre fire.

Fire crews also had to cope with news that four members of a team on their way to help had died in a traffic accident.

Four passengers died when a van from La Grande, Ore., swerved on Interstate 70 near Parachute and rolled four times. The van was part of an eight-vehicle convoy headed to the Hayman fire.

Seven others were injured, some critically.

Retha Shirley, 19, from Baker City, Ore., Daniel Rama, 28, from Baker City and Jake Martindale from Boise Idaho were killed. Another victim was unidentified.

Colorado State Patrol spokesman Don Moseman said reckless driving charges were possible against Megan Helm, 21, of La Grande, who had moderate injuries. There was no indication that alcohol or drugs were involved.

Southwest of Denver, three firefighters suffered minor injuries. Twenty-five-hundred were on the Hayman fire.

About 100 people who live near the northeast end of the fire were allowed to return home Friday night. Seven hundred of the 8,900 people forced out of their houses by the blaze went home Thursday night.

The fire allegedly was started by a Forest Service employee, Terry Barton. She was being held on $600,000 bond on federal arson and other charges.

A fire burning in the Rio Grande National Forest grew to 8,039 acres and was threatening up to 200 homes and 25 businesses near South Fork in south-central Colorado, fire information officer Mike Cassell said.

Crews on Saturday were worried high afternoon winds would cancel out work done Friday when temperatures were cooler. Containment was still 20 percent.

About 300 people remained out of their homes because of the fire.

Cassell said the human-caused blaze has destroyed 11 homes and two outbuildings. More than 150 firefighters assisted by air tankers and helicopters are battling the wind-driven fire.