Colorado wildfire prompts more evacuations as authorities fight looting

How are crews handling massive wildfire?


Firefighters faced dangerous conditions across much of the Rocky Mountain region Monday, as hot, dry weather and expected gusty winds threatened to fuel a wildfire that has charred nearly 91 square miles in northern Colorado.

Authorities said three more homes may have burned in the fire near Fort Collins. The blaze that started June 9 already has destroyed at least 181 homes — the most in the state's history.

Crews continue to cut and dig lines around the flames, but containment has stayed at 45 percent since Saturday.

Temperatures in the 90s and wind gusts of up to 50 mph were expected Monday, a day after strong winds helped spread the fire and prompted more evacuation orders.

On Sunday, another fire erupted in the foothills west of Colorado Springs, prompting the evacuation of an unknown number of homes as well as some cabins, a Boy Scout camp and a recreation area near the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir, which provides water to the Denver area.

The fire has spread to 450 acres, and fire managers said it has the potential to grow much more in the dry, windy conditions.

As firefighters try to get the upper hand on the blaze near Fort Collins, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.

On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Stillman Maher, 30, of Denver, on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff's department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.

His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators said they found a gun and stolen property in the vehicle.

Jeff Corum, whose home burned on the first day of the northern Colorado fire, described whirling, unpredictable winds that drove the blaze.

"That's what it's been doing, back and forth," Corum said. "It's just like a washing machine, and it's just rolling up there, and that's the way the mountains are."

Corum grabbed some clothing and two weapons when he fled, but not his credit cards. He's spent a few nights in a motel, some at a Red Cross evacuation center and some in his truck.

He's keeping a list of people and agencies who have handed him cash, paid for his laundry and given him tools to sift through the remains of his home when he's allowed back in.

The fire also is forcing wildlife to flee the flames. A moose seeking shelter in Fort Collins is back in the wild after swimming across Horsetooth Reservoir, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported ( ).

Wildlife officials tranquilized the moose, blindfolded it and moved it to an area away from the fire. City officials say they're expecting more wild animals than usual because of the fire.

Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain National Park is banning all campfires because of the threat of wildfires in Colorado.

The park normally allows campfires in designated fire rings, but the ban enacted Monday will bar those, as well as charcoal grilling, for the first time since September 2010.

Authorities also are trying to enforce a ban on using private fireworks in the state.


— Wyoming: A grass fire destroyed four homes in a small community outside Casper, Wyo., Sunday afternoon, but no one was injured. Another wildfire discovered Sunday has burned about 800 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

— California: A wildfire that forced the evacuation of 150 homes in eastern San Diego County and nearly doubled in size overnight is 30 percent contained. But authorities warned that the 820-acre blaze burning east of Campo still threatens more than 200 structures. Nearly 500 personnel have been dispatched to fight the fire, which has destroyed one home and one other structure.

— Nevada: Crews are fighting a 22,000-acre fire north of Ely, Nev., that has burned a mobile home. The person living there was evacuated, and no injuries have been reported in the fire burning steep, rugged terrain on the east side of the Schell Mountain Range, authorities said.

— New Mexico: Firefighters are taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Another fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles. It's 80 percent contained.

— Arizona: Firefighters are focusing on protecting electrical transmission lines near a 3,100-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest in northern Arizona. Officials said hot weather and steep slopes remain a concern, and firefighters are on the alert for thunderstorms and possible lightning strikes. The fire is 15 percent contained.

— Nebraska: Firefighters are attacking the east side of a wildfire reported Sunday that has blackened roughly 1,500 to 2,000 acres in northwest Nebraska. No injuries have been reported, and there have been no reports of buildings being burned, authorities said Monday.