DENVER – Firefighting crews turned their attention from battling flames to preventing flooding in areas where wildfires burned off vegetation that had been protecting thousands of acres of soil.
Just a tenth of an inch of rain in the wrong area could send water and debris streaming down Mitchell Creek toward homes in Glenwood Springs, said Guy Meyer of Garfield County Emergency Management. Two hundred homes there, once threatened by fire, were evacuated for several hours Thursday because of the threat of flooding.
On Saturday, rain was falling just to the north of the fire zone and there was a chance of thunderstorms across the state.
Firefighters scattered straw on the ground and trucked in concrete barriers to build channels that could divert rainwater away from homes. Without the diversions, rain falling on hillsides where intense fires stripped the soil bare of living organisms rolls off the ground as if it were asphalt.
"We're going to probably leave this up there for at least two years until that area is vegetated and the threat of mudslides dissipates," Meyer said.
The area near Glenwood Springs was ravaged by a wildfire that had burned more than 12,200 acres and destroyed 29 homes. It was 90 percent contained Saturday.
Near Durango, firefighters were gaining the upper hand on a separate 73,145-acre wildfire that was 75 percent contained. Four ranches and 34 homes remained evacuated.
Southwest of Denver, another fire that had burned 138,000 acres and destroyed 133 homes was contained on Tuesday.
Wildfires also burned Saturday in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
In northeastern Arizona, officials tallied the damage from the state's largest-ever wildfire, which had burned 469,000 acres and was 95 percent contained Saturday morning. Firefighters expected to have it contained on Sunday.
Officials said the blaze caused at least $28 million in damage and destroyed 467 homes. No homes have been lost in recent days, but the figure rose because fire departments were able to reach secluded homes that weren't counted initially.
Rain showers over the past few days have aided efforts to contain two wildfires in Wyoming, but much of the state remained bone dry, and a new fire erupted in a remote area of Yellowstone National Park.
The 180-acre fire had been smoldering about six miles east of Mount Washburn in the northeastern part of the park since lightning started it June 27. It flared up again Friday evening.
"Nothing's threatened," spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said. "It's been in a very remote location in old-growth lodgepole pine."