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Large wildfire in N. Colorado prompts evacuations

APTOPIX New Mexico Wi_Magu.jpg

June 9: Smoke billows from the Little Bear fire in southeastern New Mexico near Ruidoso. (AP2012)

Crews on Saturday battled a fast-moving wildfire in northern Colorado that has scorched about 8,000 acres and prompted several dozen evacuation orders.

Larimer County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Schulz said the fire was reported just before 6 a.m. Saturday in the mountainous Paradise Park area about 25 miles northwest of Fort Collins.

The blaze expanded rapidly during the late afternoon and evening and by Saturday night, residents living along several roads in the region had been ordered to evacuate and many more were warned that they might have to flee. An evacuation center has been set up at a Laporte middle school.

Officials didn't specify how many residents had evacuated but said they had sent out 800 emergency notifications alerting people to the fire and the possibility that might have to flee.

"Right now we're just trying to get these evacuations done and get people safe," Schulz told Denver-based KMGH-TV, adding that "given the extreme heat in the area, it makes it a difficult time for (the firefighters)." Temperatures near Fort Collins reached the mid-80s Saturday afternoon with a humidity level of between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Ten structures have been damaged, although authorities were unsure if they were homes or some other kind of buildings. No injuries have been reported. The cause of the fire was unknown.

Aerial footage from KMGH-TV showed flames coming dangerously close to what appeared to be several outbuildings and at least one home in the area, as well as consuming trees and sending a large plume of smoke into the air.

Two heavy air tankers, five single-engine air tankers and four helicopters were on the scene to help fight the blaze, which appeared to be burning on private and U.S. Forest Service land and was being fueled by sustained winds of between 20 and 25 mph.

"It was just good conditions to grow," National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Gimmestad told The Associated Press. "The conditions today were really favorable for it to take off."

He said firefighters should benefit from cooler weather this evening, but the cold front also is expected to bring wind gusts as high as 40 mph.

"It's a trade off," he said. "The biggest thing might be that it will be pushing (the fire) in a different direction and the way this is playing out, it might be in the direction of homes."

Also Saturday, KMGH reported a grass fire destroyed at least four outbuildings near Interstate 25 and Colorado 7 in Erie. Images from the station's helicopter showed at least one car engulfed in flames.

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