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Northern Colorado wildfire threatens 'numerous homes;' about 50 people leave area

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March 15, 2013: A wildfire burns out of control at Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins, Colo.AP

A wildfire burning in gusty winds and warm weather in northern Colorado was threatening homes west of Fort Collins on Friday and has prompted more than 50 people to leave the area.

The fire began burning near the visitors' center in Lory State Park near the scene of a large wildfire last summer that burned 259 homes and killed one person. Firefighters were also battling another smaller fire nearby.

The fire appeared to have spread after authorities first estimated its size at 40 acres, but no update was immediately available.

Blackened areas from last year's High Park Fire were visible about a quarter-mile beyond the latest, larger fire, which was spreading along the western edge of Horsetooth Reservoir in an area that didn't burn last year.

Crews appear to have made some progress stopping the fire's advance toward homes to the north and were focusing on the fire's southern end.

The initial evacuation was about 50 people, but the Larimer County Sheriff's Department said additional evacuations were ordered later. The number wasn't available.

Authorities abruptly closed off access to one neighborhood that was in the fire's path but had not yet been evacuated, blocking residents trying to get in to check on their property or retrieve pets and possessions.

David Goldberg was standing at a roadblock waiting for his wife to drive down from their house with their four dogs.

"I told her, `Just leave,"' said Goldberg, an attorney. "We've been through this before."

Goldberg said the family was still planning to catch a 5 a.m. Saturday flight for a vacation in Hawaii.

"It's just part of life," he said of the fire, adding that material possessions were not overly important. "Things are just things."

Mark Martina, a mortgage broker, was heading home to get his dog when he reached the roadblock not far from his house.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's pretty ridiculous to shut things down and not let anyone know."

Angela Dietrich, whose home was not in the fire's immediate path, said the smoke was so bad she couldn't see her yard from inside the house.

She said she was amazed the wildfire sprang up so early in the year.

"This is a really bad start," she said.

Poudre Fire Capt. Patrick Love said aircraft have been requested to fight the fire but he doesn't believe any are available.

"I don't think they're in the area. Not this time of the year," he said.

The fire came as much of the state dealt with drought conditions after a relatively dry winter. The snowpack in the mountains was low, leaving farmers wondering how many crops to plant and raising the possibility of lawn-watering restrictions along the Front Range.

Messages left for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, weren't immediately returned.

Temperatures reached into the 70s along Colorado's Front Range, record-breaking territory for March. Part of Horsetooth Reservoir, however, is still frozen over.

Colorado's wildfire season also started in March last year.

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