June 15, 2012: A sign warns motorist of the closure of Highway 14 through Poudre Canyon as columns of smoke rise in the distance from the High Park wildfire west of Fort Collins, Colo.AP2012
June 15, 2012: A Erickson Air Crane firefighting helicopter flys to a pond to refill its tank while fighting the High Park wildfire, west of Fort Collins, Colo.
June 14, 2012: Fire explodes on the south side of Poudre Canyon as the High Park wildfire burns west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Thursday.AP2012
More firefighting crews were arriving Saturday at a wildfire in northern Colorado that has scorched about 85 square miles and damaged or destroyed at least 112 homes.
Fire information officer Brett Haberstick said that more than 1,500 personnel are working on the fire about 15 miles west of Fort Collins. The lightning-caused blaze, which is believed to have killed a 62-year-old woman whose body was found in her cabin, was 20 percent contained. The fire's incident commander said full containment could be two to four weeks away.
Haberstick said hot and dry weather is expected to continue, and firefighters are keeping an eye on possible thunderstorms that could bring lightning to the area. Meanwhile, crews have made progress in containing a 200-acre spot fire that erupted Thursday afternoon north of the Cache La Poudre River, a critical line of defense against northward growth.
"We're hopeful that we will be able to contain it today, but that will be determined by Mother Nature," Haberstick said.
Firefighters have extinguished other incursions north of the river, but the most recent one appeared to be more serious.
The fire was reported June 9 and has since raced through large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, is scheduled to meet with fire managers in Fort Collins on Saturday and is expected to talk about additional resources deployed to the fire. He is scheduled to hold a news conference with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in Albuquerque on Sunday.
Meanwhile in New Mexico, questions were being raised about whether bureaucratic red tape prevented firefighters from saving more homes affected by the Little Bear Fire after federal officials released transcripts of the firefighters' response.
Congressman Steve Pearce said Friday in an interview with KOB-TV (http://bit.ly/Mga1yx) that he believed federal officials could have done more after lightning sparked the fire outside the resort town of Ruidoso on June 4. Days later, high winds sent embers more than a mile from the blaze's end, causing the inferno to grow.
But officials released transcripts of the response on the Lincoln National Forest website that suggested firefighters were attacking the blaze as soon as it was a quarter of an acre.
The fire has destroyed 224 homes and burned 59 square miles.