CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Rain and sleet on Thursday helped dampen two wind-whipped Colorado wildfires that had threatened hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee.
The blazes erupted Wednesday and quickly overmatched firefighters, and officials said Thursday that a high level of fire danger remains in the drought-parched Colorado forests and plains.
"I don't want people to think because it's raining now the danger is over," said Andy Lyon, a fire information officer on the 1,200-acre blaze in the suburbs of far south Denver that threatened 300 to 400 pricey homes.
About 3,000 homes and businesses were evacuated as 16 engines and crews battled the fire overnight, with extra crews were set to take over the day shift.
A second fire in the foothills northwest of Boulder raced across 4,000 acres and threatened the historic mining village of Jamestown before morning sleet damped the flames way down. Residents of about 300 homes in the area were ordered to evacuate.
"Right now it appears that it's slightly sleeting and I just talked to deputies on the scene of the fire; they're reporting there are no visible flames," Boulder County Sgt. Dan Barber said early Thursday.
Both fires were believed to have been started by damaged power lines. One firefighter on the southern fire was treated for a minor injury.
The weather change arrived as predicted overnight, dropping the temperatures 20 to 40 degrees and calming savage winds that at one point whipped up 100-foot flames and forced firefighters off the Jamestown fire.
The flames had moved away from town late Wednesday, and firefighters set up a defensive line five miles from the village. Others stood guard over houses in the foothills north and east of town.
Sirens sounded the evacuation call shortly before noon, and a shelter was set up at the Boulder County Fairgrounds (search) in Longmont, 15 miles to the east, for both people and livestock. Some residents wept as they drove away.
South of Denver, five subdivisions were ordered evacuated, creating chaos as drivers moved their SUVs and cars onto a handful of streets leading out. Helicopters hovered above the smoky haze and the sound of sirens filled the air.
"I'm going to get my wife and kids to a safe place, then I'm coming back," said John Stevens, a 38-year-old chiropractor. "I'll be here, guns loaded, ready for looters."
Lyon said a decision on allowing when to allow residents to return would be considered Thursday. He said the only buildings lost have been a historic barn and some outbuildings.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) approved a request from Gov. Bill Owens for federal resources to fight the fires. Owens said he also offered to dispatch National Guard helicopters.